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Module 10 - The Lao People’s Democratic Republic: Preserving Women’s Rights in Land Titling

What’s innovative? A conscious, comprehensive approach to including women’s issues in the design and implementation of a land reform program increased the recognition of women’s land rights, conferred greater security of tenure, and provided new access to credit for women.

The Lao People’s Democratic Republic (Lao PDR) is one of the poorest and least developed countries in East Asia. Since 1986, the Lao government has been transforming the economy from a centrally planned to a market-oriented system. Lao law provides that all land is owned by the state, with the state allocating perpetual, inheritable and marketable use rights to individuals based on existing possession and custom.

In practice, women have less access to the land than might be expected under prevailing customs, which differ substantially among ethnic groups but generally allow women to inherit land. Women tend not to be able to exercise their rights where residence is patrilocal. When women move to their husbands’ villages, they have less access to land and farm smaller and more dispersed plots. Pressure from men to appropriate women’s land is very real.

The Lao government has engaged in systematic land surveys and titling of land use rights in urban and periurban areas of seven provinces since 1993. Titling provides security of tenure and improved access to credit markets, because land can be used as collateral. Women landholders should benefit from this program as much as men because they comprise 51 percent of the population and 53 percent of the agricultural labor force. Under national law, men and women are now equally entitled to hold property, and the Family Law specifies that any property purchased during marriage is regarded as joint property. Land owned by a woman prior to her marriage remains her individual property, as does any land she inherits from her parents.

But women have been disadvantaged in earlier titling work in which their customary rights had to be proven largely through the oral testimony of their kin. Women generally have lower literacy rates, a heavy family workload, and a lesser role in public affairs. As a result, they often do not have the time—or understand the need—to participate in land adjudication and titling processes.

Project Objectives and Description

Since 1995, a collaborative effort by the Lao government, AusAid (Australian Agency for International Development), and the World Bank has sought to address the land use rights and inheritance issues affecting women. The Laos Land Titling Project I has integrated gender-sensitive strategies into its implementation in urban and associated village areas in six provinces where both matrilineal inheritance and patrilocal residence prevail. The overall objectives of the project are to foster the development of efficient land markets and to facilitate domestic resource mobilization by providing a system of clear and enforceable land use ownership rights, as well as by developing a land valuation capacity. The project focuses on development of a legal and policy framework for land management, land titling, valuation, and administration.


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