15 - 16 November 2006, United Nations, New York



10:00-11:20, Conference Room 2

Moderator: Ms. Caren A. Grown, Senior Scholar and Co-director of the Gender Equality and the Economy program, The Levy Economics Institute
Ms. Haoua Dia
MP, President Senegalese Women's Council
Ms. Jan Peterson, Chair, Huairou Commission and Member, High-Level Commission on the Legal Empowerment of the Poor
Prof. Cheryl Doss, Professor of Economics, Yale University


“Women are still grossly denied the right to adequate housing and related rights such as land and water. We live in a world today where millions of women are homeless and landless. Many millions more due to non-implementation of their rights to housing and land, are one step away from becoming homeless and landless. Poverty is a critical overlaying factor that intersects with the other factors to deny women their right[s]…”
Miloon Kothari, Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing, March 2005

Poverty has the power to simultaneously disenfranchise, deny and disempower. Its effects are multiple – economic, political, social and cultural. Yet they are not equal for all groups or by gender. Too many women in too many countries confront constrained opportunities and are unable access to the productive resources and assets that exist within their societies.

This gender-based “asset gap” refers to a broad range of ways in which women are excluded from participation in the economy and society.  Limiting women’s ability to accumulate wealth has far-reaching implications for inclusive and gender-equitable development. The limitations are multiple and can include women’s exclusion from formal land ownership, financial capital, education, healthcare, water, and energy.  Recent work has focused on marital and inheritance laws and the legal impediment they pose for asset-building by women in the developing world.

In policy and practice, the response has been directed at the need to establish, standardize and implement effective frameworks that can overcome these different barriers in different spheres of society. The spaces that the state, community, family and market occupy will condition the accumulation of assets, with gender playing a role in each of them.  A country’s legal framework, especially marital and inheritance regimes, set the stage for women’s ability to accumulate assets.  Social norms and market institutions then provide for further constraints and opportunities. 

The gender-based asset gap is not a new concept. What is open for debate are the policies and programmes to address it.  It is about reassessing ways to partner with the poor and rethinking how things are done. One approach involves assisting women to organize as the implementers and evaluators of the kind of changes they want. It calls for power sharing and shifting resources and decision-making.  It requires looking at the share of dollars going to research and professionals versus the flows received by community driven initiatives.  Networks of grassroots women organizations are already entrenched in these topics through their work on issues of land, housing and basic services.  What is needed now is to learn about, apply and multiply them.

Additional discussion is merited on how women’s access to assets impacts a country’s overall development, such as achieving the Millennium Development Goals. Constraints and obstacles to opportunities mean more women are less educated and healthy, and more are vulnerable and marginalized. Within countries, questions of access may vary by region, province and town, and across social groups. Accounting for these differences requires flexible approaches rooted in local realities.

Panel participants representing each of the sectors will discuss their experiences in the realm of expanding women’s access to assets: marital and inheritance law, basic social services and land and housing.  The session will draw on practical examples to facilitate a better understanding of the dynamics of the players and the policies that can promote effective strategies to empower women.  Moreover, the session will provide a framework for exchanging lessons learned and on-the-ground experiences for creating the sustainable outcomes necessary for change.

Panel participants and focus areas:
Professor Cheryl Doss, Access to Assets and Legal Structures
Ms. Haoua Dia, Access to Basic Social Services (Health, Education)
Ms. Jan Peterson, Access to Land and Housing, Situations of Conflict and Reconstruction