Poor women learn rights to land in Bangladesh
It is clear to see that something big is going on in the village of Hajarigoan, northeast Bangladesh. Eighty-nine extremely poor women from the village are busy at work cutting, carrying and packing soil. They are taking part in a cash for work scheme. This is part of a CARE project, which is working with 55,000 of the region’s poorest women and their families to help reduce their poverty and tackle the problem of stable access to food. The project is community-led. It works to engage the whole community in identifying central problems and devising suitable solutions. This process helps people to tackle their problems collectively and unite in supporting the poorest.
In Hajarigaon, the community, with the assistance of CARE staff, recognised landlessness as a significant cause of extreme poverty for many families in the village. When project staff and community members began to look at this issue further they found that 23 families were paying rent to more privileged local people for land that did not belong to them.
Land for the landless
The land is Khash land, government owned land that, by law, should be distributed to the landless. Despite this, deep-rooted power structures, corruption and the lack of local government funds means that this land is often controlled by rich and powerful people in the community who illegally charge rent for the use of the land.
Upon identifying the true owners of the land, CARE staff, together with the landless families were able to successfully register the land with the government. On 7th July 2011, 23 families received the official lease for the land they had occupied for the last 25 years. The lease, guaranteed for 99 years, gives full legal rights to the families and ensures their homesteads are no longer at the mercy of a select few.
“Now I feel at peace”, Rabia, one of the ultra-poor women whose family now has legal right to the land explained. Now safe in the knowledge that her family can no longer be forced off the land.
"Now we can see"
One member of the community went so far in explaining the change after CARE raised awareness of the importance of legally registering land “we were like the blind and could not see; now we can see!”
In the cash for work project mentioned above, CARE is helping the new land owners raise the 2.3 acres of land above the level water reached when the floods that devastate villages in this region every year hit. In the past the flood water came right up to the entrance to their houses. “We were surrounded by water,” one resident explained. “My son had to be rescued from the flood water twice after falling in.”
Once this is complete the new land owners will be able to move openly on their land throughout the year. The new land is connected to a road which also means children will have easy access to the local school all year through.
Additionally, the project provides training to the women on homestead gardening and vegetable production, providing a valuable source of nutrition for the family. “We are so happy” said Rabia, “now my children will live here peacefully”.
Since the project began in 2009 it has assisted hundreds of extremely poor families in the northeast of Bangladesh to legally access land they have been living on for decades, and can now call their own.