BOGOTA (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Giving women access to land in Guatemala is key to forging lasting peace and tackling inequality, Nobel peace laureate Rigoberta Menchu said on Friday, in a country where land distribution is one of the most unequal in the world.
Two decades after Guatemala signed a 1996 peace accord to end a civil war that pledged major land distribution to the country’s majority indigenous population, most land is still owned by men and remains in the hands of a few, Menchu said.
“Unfortunately in Guatemala it’s 20 families who continue to enjoy the country’s richness and land,” Menchu, a Guatemalan indigenous rights activist told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“Without exaggerating I think the most acute problem in Guatemala, the cause of more and future conflicts is land primarily because of the unfair distribution of land,” Menchu said on the sidelines of the World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates in Bogota.
Across Latin America just one percent of farms and estates control more than half of the region’s productive land, according to a 2016 report by anti-poverty group Oxfam.
Menchu, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1992, said that despite laws to protect indigenous people in Guatemala, developers looking to exploit ancestral lands rarely consult local communities properly about plantations or mining projects.
This often leads to conflicts over land between Guatemala’s majority Mayan indigenous communities, big landowners and agricultural and mining companies.
“In the 70 consultations with local communities I’ve been involved with, none have managed to adhere to the law,” Menchu said.
Menchu, a two-time presidential candidate and founder of Guatemala’s first indigenous political party, said much more needs to be done to improve women’s access to land.
Globally women make up nearly 45 percent of the agricultural labor force but less than 20 percent of landholders are women, according to the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
In Guatemala, widows all too often find it difficult to inherit land and property from their husbands with land usually handed down to boys and the husband’s family, Menchu said.
With little access to land, rural development and women’s rights are stifled as women have little or no say over the land they farm and depend on.
“Access to land gives women autonomy,” Menchu said.
“It also gives women leadership opportunities because if a woman is recognized by the community as a property owner the community will not speak to her husband but to her,” she said.