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Joint Land Ownership (JLO): A milestone towards women’s right to property in Nepal

By Subhash Chandra, in collaboration with Kalpana Karki

The famous 11 days foot march that demanded womens’ rights over land

An elderly women completing formal official processes to get her joint land ownership certificate

Campaigning for women’s right to property in a dominantly patriarchal society like Nepal is both a challenge and an opportunity. After actively campaigning for land rights and reform for decades, National Land Rights Forum (NLRF) and Community Self Reliance Center (CSRC), our friends in Nepal, successfully established Joint Land Ownership (JLO). JLO means officially registering the land and houses under both the husband’s and wife’s names. This legally ensures a couple’s joint ownership of property. 

CSRC and NLRF believe that women should have rights over means of production including land, in order to end violence, discrimination, exploitation, and injustice, and to develop a sustainable, just, equitable, and progressive society. Women’s contributions to Nepali agriculture are immense. About 84 percent of women are farming, and they contribute about 60 percent of the agricultural production. But their participation has been limited to labor without control or ownership of land. Women have not been consulted, nor is their consent sought or required, when a male head of the household buys or sells land, or uses land as collateral for a loan.

Bhogendra Mahara and his wife Ful Badandevi Mahara from Mahottari district, looking at their joint land ownership certificate they just received in 2015

From the beginning of the land rights movement, women’s rights to land ownership has remained one of the major issues. As the campaign gradually secured land for several thousand landless families across the country, the leadership realized that the ownership was limited to the men, even though their female partners participated equally or even more in taking care of the land and in the farm work. Therefore, the campaign took concrete steps and specific strategies to ensure women’s rights over land; equal to their male partners in the family. Several local to national campaigns were organized by CSRC and NLRF to change societal attitudes and to influence national policy in favour of women’s property rights. An eleven-day foot march across five districts in the western part of the country, and sit-in protests with over a thousand women from across the country in Kathmandu are examples of nonviolent direct actions organized by CSRC and NLRF to sensitise the masses and legally secure women’s rights over land. A few women activists even died accidentally in the course of those campaigns. 

In 2010, after the government policy was introduced, more than six dozen families in Sindhupalchowk district registered for joint land ownership certificates for the first time. The campaign then spread throughout the country and continues today. Soon after the women’s sit-in action in Kathmandu, to support JLO, the government reduced the tax rate to 100 rupees (about US$1) for couples willing to register for joint land ownership certificates. In addition, the government now provides only joint ownership certificates when land is offered to a landless family. The government also began to run JLO camps in remote places when there are more than 20 families prepared to register the land in joint ownership to reduce the hardship of travel. Up until now, 9,872 families have made joint land ownership certificates over 2700 hectare (about 6672 acre) of land through the campaign initiated by CSRC and NLRF. 

A happy couple after obtaining their joint land ownership certificate

Dal Maya Karki, a woman farmer from Sarlahi says- “My husband used to beat me about minor issues in the family. He had kept the land certificate himself. I was always worried about what would happen to me and the family if he sold or pledged the land without our notice or consent? I could not trust him. I did not know how to save the land! So I was relieved to hear about the joint land ownership for the first time. I consulted with my husband about this but he did not agree with me. Rather he questioned me- ‘I have given you food to eat and clothes to wear, why do you need to own the land?’ Once, a campaign team of NLRF visited our family and explained the idea and value of joint land ownership. Then he was convinced. We went to the government office and registered our land in joint ownership. My stressed heart and mind are now at peace. My husband’s behaviour has also changed. He does not fight or beat me like before. I feel relieved to think that he now cannot sell or pledge our land without my consent and participation.”

Kalpana Karki, a CCP facilitator and leader of the JLO campaign at CSRC, says- “JLO is an important step to ensuring property rights for rural women in Nepal. Women working on the land have gained legal rights after a long struggle. This is a very effective way to establish gender equality in a strongly patriarchal society like Nepal. Once a mother gains rights over property, the chances of her daughter inheriting those rights are also high. The land ownership certificate may seem like just a piece of paper but it holds a power that enables a woman to make decisions or participate in making decisions, and empowers her to live with confidence and courage in the family and society. I feel happy and proud to have been part of a campaign for thousands of rural women throughout the country who were formally discriminated against and excluded but who now have security through rights to land ownership.

The first batch of JLO certificate receiver in Nepal. Seventy families were facilitated in Sindhupalchowk district after they received the JLO for the first time in Nepal about ten years ago.