Women's Perspectives: A Case Study of Systematic Land Registration

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The study brings attention to the issues of domestic violence and multiple marriages, and highlights the relevance of these issues to women’s access to land.

The recognition and official registration of land tenure has become an integral part of the economic reform process in Cambodia during the past decade. Policy makers contend that the issuance of private ownership titles will increase land tenure security while promoting efficient land markets.

Within this context the Royal Government of Cambodia (RGC) has initiated a series of legislative reforms, including the passage of the 2001 Land Law, which has been operationalised through a number of implementing regulations and guidelines. Following the adoption of the Land Law, the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction (MLMUPC) began a systematic land registration campaign. The campaign forms part of the Land Management and Administration Project (LMAP), which includes a programme on land titling and the development of a land registration system.

LMAP is the first phase of the government’s 15-year Land Administration, Management and Distribution Program (LAMDP), which aims to strengthen land tenure security and land market efficiency; resolve land disputes; manage land and natural resources in an equitable, sustainable and efficient manner and promote land distribution with equity.i Between 2002 and 2007, LMAP carried out systematic land registration in 11 provinces. Development partners who have supported the project are the World Bank and the governments of Finland, Germany and Canada, with technical assistance provided by FM-International Oy FINNMAP, the German Technical Cooperation (GTZ) and the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA).

A key component of LMAP is land registration, which can happen in one of two ways: sporadic land registration and systematic land registration. Sporadic land registration is initiated at the request of a landowner, and can happen at any time (as requested by the owner). The systematic approach, initiated by the state, is the process of land titling through a determined jurisdiction, and is performed on a commune by commune basis.

The government’s policies relating to land aim to protect women’s rights in the process of land reform, following the RGC StrategyFramework on Land Policy. The framework recognises that “for land policy to meet the needs of all Cambodians it must be responsive to the needs of women. One main principal of such responsiveness is that land titling will continue to be available in the form of joint ownership between husband and wife.”ii Furthermore, the government’s land policy framework emphasises that women should be represented in various commissions and committees.

Thus far more than one million titles have been issued to individuals in the first phase of the land registration programme, both in rural and urban areas.iii A basic survey carried out by LMAP in 2007 on systematic land registration in rural areas and cities found that female owners outnumbered male owners in overall numbers. The survey showed that 20 percent of land titling was made in the wife’s name, 5 percent in the husband’s name and 70 percent was made under joint ownership.iv Joint ownership means that the right of land ownership is equally shared by husband and wife and the title bears both names. This confirms the status of land as marital property, thereby reducing the potential for fraudulent or incorrect claims of individual ownership. Joint ownership aims specifically to secure land tenure for women, and helps women maintain control over their land.v

Land is a critical resource for a woman in the event of separation, divorce, abandonment, multiple marriage relationships or death of her husband. In both urban and rural settings, land ownership under these circumstances can mean the difference between dependence on family support and the ability to form a viable, self-reliant, female-headed household.vi It should be noted that joint ownership is not in itself an answer to gendered obstacles, but it is an important strategy to ensure that the process of formalising land ownership does not unwittingly produce gender-discriminatory effects. Despite efforts of the RGC to incorporate gender perspectives into land reform laws and policies, there are concerns about the implementation of these efforts.vii According to a gender assessment carried out by USAID, “the confusion and costs associated with certifying ownership rights have had a negative impact on women’s land rights, especially for female-headed  households.” Limited understanding among women of the law and the registration process may hinder their active engagement, and poses challenges for women in defending their access rights.viii This is further exacerbated by inconsistent approaches applied by local authorities and land registration officers, due to their limited understanding of procedural guidelines.

This study looks into systematic land registration with a focus on joint ownership by describing cases of separation, divorce and abandonment that occurred prior to land registration. Through the voices of the interviewed women, the study brings attention to the issues of domestic violence and multiple marriages, and highlights the relevance of these issues to women’s access to land. Inconsistencies in the implementation of the land registration process and challenges relating to women’s access to justice are also reviewed briefly. The study concludes with recommendations for further discussion and research on the subject.

i Land Policy Statement of the Royal Government of Cambodia, May 2001.
ii Royal Government of Cambodia, Strategy Framework on Land Policy, Interim paper, 2002.
iii “Land Titling and Poverty Reduction: A Study of Two Sangkat in Prey Nup District, Sihanoukville Municipality.” Analysing Development Issues (team and research participants) in collaboration with the Land Information Centre/NGO Forum on Cambodia, November 2007.
iv Sar, Sovann and Franz-Volker Mueller. “Experiences of land management in Cambodia.” Presented at the international conference “Policy Meets Land Management: Contributions to the Achievements of the MDGs.” April 17-18, 2008, Munich, Germany.
v Agrawal, Nisha, Dzung The Nguyen and Hoa Thi Mong Pham. “Promising approaches in engendering development, land use rights and gender equality in Vietnam.” 2002.
vi Brown, Jennifer and Firliana Purwanti. “Registration of Land and Women’s Land Rights on Java: Why so many married couples register marital property in the name of one spouse and what has been the impact on women’s land rights.” Rural Development Institute, 2002.
vii “Gender analysis and assessment.” USAID Cambodia, March 2006.
viii Concluding comments of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, Cambodia, February 2006.

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