Groundbreaking research on women's forestland rights issues in China

by renee-giovarelli | | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Monday, 29 August 2011 18:33 GMT

* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Author, Xiaobei Wang, Gender and Land Tenure Specialist, Landesa

Landesa is conducting groundbreaking research on the impact of China’s forest land reform on rural women. The forestland reform in China has been carried out for many years and aims at allocating forest land to individual households for 70-year use rights in an effort to encourage long-term investment in the land, which boosts income and environmental conservation.  The research conducted by Landesa’s gender and land tenure specialist, Xiaobei Wang, and senior attorney, Elisa Scalise, is the first comprehensive analysis from a gender perspective on this reform.

Wang and Scalise conducted part of their research for this project in Heng Dong County of Hunan province in south China in July. They interviewed women about their forest land rights. As part of China’s forest land reform, each household was allocated shares of forestland by the collective based on the number of family members regardless of gender or age.

Our research found that women benefited from the forestland reform just as men did. However, our findings in the field clearly show that women are still in a very vulnerable and disadvantaged position in the forestland reform because of a variety of previously unknown factors.

The primary challenge facing women who want to enjoy their rights to forestland is China’s marriage custom. Generally, women move to their husband’s village when they marry. This change in residence means many women can no longer manage their forest lands after they marry.

Landesa will continue to look into the unique obstacles and difficulties facing rural women in China through future fieldwork. We will explore what laws and policies are needed to safeguard rural women’s forest land rights after our fieldwork is conducted. Policy dialogue with the governments and women’s organization will also be conducted to ensure that this research produces positive results in terms of promoting gender equality and empowering women which will benefit entire families.

Landesa will complete the final round of this research this month and draft recommendations for interventions by December.




Grounded in the knowledge that having legal rights to land is a foundation for prosperity and opportunity, Landesa partners with governments and local organizations to ensure that the world’s poorest families have secure rights over the land they till. Founded as the Rural Development Institute in 1967, Landesa has helped more than 100 million poor families gain legal control over their land.  With secure land rights, these families can eat better, earn more, educate their children, practice conservation, and achieve dignity for generations.


Landesa Center for Women’s Land Rights 

An initiative of Landesa, the Center for Women’s Land Rights champions the untapped potential of women and girls to transform their communities. With secure rights to land, women and girls can improve food security, education, health, and economic development for themselves and their families.