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Victory in Land Title Struggle! | Community in Recife, Brazil Granted Land Titles After 5 Decades of Grassroots Organizing

(Photo credit: Espa�o Feminista)

(Photo credit: Espa�o Feminista)


Recife, Brazil. On March 12, after five decades of struggle to regularize their informal housing settlement amidst eviction threats and unfulfilled promises from past governments, community members of Ponte do Maduro in Northeast Brazil celebrated as the Governor of the State of Pernambuco issued the first land titles to residents of Chi� during a special ceremony.

At the ceremony, attended by the Mayor of Recife along with other officials and community members, Governor Eduardo Campos announced that 500 land titles were ready to be handled in the community of Chi�, with another 2,500 titles to go to the other three communities that make up the settlement of Ponte do Maduro (Santa Terezinha, Ilha de Joaneiro and Santo Amaro). In total, these 3,000 land titles, to be distributed in the coming weeks, will reach around 40% of the approximately 8,000 families living in the settlement.

The land titles represent a significant victory in the struggle to secure land tenure for residents living in poverty. For women, security of tenure means not only legal rights to property, but also access to credit, freedom to invest in home improvements without fear of losing the investments, empowerment to make decisions within the household, and improved social and economic status in the wider community. 


Above all, it means a recognition of the right to the city and the right to remain in the place they built with their own work over 5 decades. 


"It was not easy and took a long time...the bureaucrats that permeate our institutions do not understand that the reality cannot obey the norm. To the contrary, the norm needs to adjust to the reality."


-Governor Eduardo Campos

State of Pernambuco

In his speech, the governor drew attention to the 50 years of struggle, acknowledged the unfulfilled promises by other governors, and affirmed his commitment to fulfill the promise his own grandfather made to ensure the rights of people who came to Recife many years ago to escape droughts and lack of opportunities in rural areas. He explained that in order to deliver the land titles, he had to first transform the area of Chi� into a Special Zone of Social Interest - ZEIS, with the full support of the Mayor of Recife Geraldo Julio, which extended the process. He also signed a document in which an area within Chi� was declared of social interest, thereby protecting residents from evictions.


(Photo credit: Espa�o Feminista)
The Long Road to Victory 
The regularization process began in October 2011. Arriving at this momentous occasion has been an arduous journey involving multiple stakeholders and partners, but unmistakably spearheaded by women. Huairou Commission member Espa�o Feminista has been working within the four communities of Ponte do Maduro for more than six years to strengthen women's participation and leadership in the land titling process in Recife. 
Through their partnerships between UN-Habitat and government agencies, research institutions and civil society, Espa�o Feminista has led a strong effort to enable grassroots women to meaningfully participate in and influence the regularization process. 

"On March 12, we all learned that modernity means inclusion and inclusion means giving rights to all citizens."


-Patricia Chaves

Espa�o Feminista 

For instance, their proactive role in piloting the Gender Evaluation Criteria in 2009 through the UN-Habitat Global Land Tools Network led to dialogues and relationship building with local government. It was through these dialogues that the State of Pernambuco (where Recife is located) recognized the need to give women a central role in the regularization process. At the World Urban Forum in 2010, the state government of Pernambuco announced that it would cease plans to evict residents of the community in favor of regularizing the settlement. It also called on GLTN and its partners, including the Huairou Commission, Espa�o Feminista, and the local committee created under the Terms of Reference that enabled the regularization process to take place, including Funda��o Joaquim Nabuco, a federal research foundation (FUNDAJ), Secretaria do Patrimonio da Uni�o (SPU) and the State of Pernambuco Housing Company (CEHAB).
The local committee was later transformed into a participatory space and formal mechanism for full engagement, in which community leaders joined and had the opportunity to influence decisions throughout the process. The Local Committee was responsible for monitoring the process. Despite the initial negative reaction to the active role of grassroots women leaders in this committee, their leadership role in the monitoring was essential to these concrete acheivements. This joint initiative, titled "Ponte do Maduro: Land Regularization with Gender Equality" and coordinated through HC's Land & Housing campaign, aimed to:
  • Ensure that the land titling process was not gender neutral, and that it was instead implemented from a gender-just approach through application of the Gender Evaluation Criteria (GEC)
  • Provide legal advice to target populations around their rights concerning land titling
  • Ensure women's full engagement and meaningful participation in the regularization process through the development of their knowledge of the process and leadership within the community
  • Use the opportunity to assess how beneficial the GEC has been to the regularization process

Overall, the initiative focused on engendering land governance at the local level, and providing visibility of this specific case to influential actors and partners at the global level with the power to set top-down concepts and frameworks around land issues. In addition to technical assistance provided during this initiative and ongoing coordination through the Community Resilience, Land & Housing campaign, Huairou Commission has supported the regularization process in Ponte do Maduro through the MDG3 Initiative and most recently the Transparency & Accountability Initiative. Espa�o Feminista is a key actor in HC's emerging Global Initiative on Women's Security of Tenure.


Eduardo Campos , governor of Pernambuco, with some of the grassroots women of Ponte do Maduro (Photo credit: Espa�o Feminista)

As we prepare to continue advocating for women's security of tenure on the global stage at the upcoming World Urban Forum 7 and World Bank Conference on Land and Poverty, we join in celebrating with Espa�o Feminista and the grassroots women and families in Ponte do Maduro for their undying energy and commitment to shifting power within their own lives and communities, the foundation of grassroots women's organizing worldwide. 
A luta continua! 
Learn More
  • Click here to read more about our Global Initiative on Women's Security of Tenure
  • Click here to read the news story from the Global Land Tools Network
Upcoming Publications | 
Gender Evaluation Criteria Publications on Women's Security of Tenure for Urban Women: Coming Spring 2014


(Photo credit: Espa�o Feminista)


This spring, look out for these three new Gender Evaluation Criteria publications on Women's Security of Tenure for Urban Women by Espao Feminista, in collaboration with Huairou Commission and UN-Habitat Global Land Tools Network (GLTN):

  • Step-by-step guide on how the regularization process translated the fundiary regularization policy (law) into practice: Describes and analyzes the specific steps and procedures developed through a participatory process in implementing the land regularization policy at the local level based on the principles of gender equality.  This publication is technical in nature, yet uses a language for both technical and non-technical audiences.   It will in its analysis highlight how a gender-sensitive approach has been utilized throughout the process. 
  • The central role of women's community engagement and organizing for the success of the regularization process.  A publication on how the process of land regularization empowers women (from their perspective) and why the empowerment of women is critical for the implementation of the regularization process. For instance, formation of conflict mediation groups has been a women's idea. The learning and capacity building during the process can lead to changing power relations in the community (and at home). Therefore, women's involvement not only makes the process more efficient, but also leads to deeper changes in the community that make the outcomes more sustainable.
  • How the Gender Evaluation Criteria was applied and gender sensitive indicators were indicated and applied during the regularization process in Ponte do Maduro. Demonstrates how the Gender Evaluation Criteria was applied throughout the process, along with how indicators were built and how each criteria was applied.


World Bank Conference on Land & Poverty |
Women's Land Issues a Major Focus of March 24-27 Conference in Washington, D.C.


Throughout the world, women have struggled to gain access to and control over land due to inadequate existing policies, processes and methodologies on security of tenure. This year, the critical issues surrounding women's land tenure will receive the prominence they deserve at the World Bank Conference on Land and Poverty, thanks to a push to engender the conference through a women and land planning committee comprised of the Huairou Commission, ILC, the World Bank, Habitat for Humanity, the Global Land Tools Network (GLTN) and Landesa, and through three years of advocacy from the Huairou Commission, including the ongoing vision of HC Chair Jan Peterson.


Every year, the World Bank Conference on Land and Poverty brings together representatives from governments, the development community, civil society, academia, and the private sector to discuss issues of concern to communities, land practitioners and policymakers worldwide. The conference aims to foster dialogue and sharing of good practices around the diversity of reforms, approaches and experiences that are being implemented in the land sector around the world. 


At the 2014 conference, gender has been elevated to one of six thematic tracks at the conference. Collectively, the women and land planning committee is also hosting a Women and Land reception, a women's caucus, and an exhibition booth


The Huairou Commission was also invited by the World Bank to coordinate one of the conference Policy Dialogue sessions, "Women's Land Rights in Customary Settings," which will feature Ndinini Kimesera and Frances Birungi as speakers on a multilateral panel alongside representatives from GLTN, the Land Policy Initiative, Habitat for Humanity and IFADRegina Pritchett will act as a respondent on the panel, which will be chaired by Dr. Joan Kagwanja of Land Policy Initiative (LPI). 


Huairou Commission Delegation:

 Papers to be Presented:

  • Improving Land Governance and women's capacity to manage natural resources in reformed areas in Pernambuco (Patricia Chaves)
  • Building effective and inclusive land governance: Practical lessons from Recife (Patricia Chaves)

  • Women's security of tenure in the context of customary land rights: The case of Maasai women in Tanzania (Ndinini Kimesera)

  • Climate change, gender and the new global commons (Jackie Leavitt & Ayse Yonder)

  • Improving transparent service delivery in land offices (Joyce Nangobi & Pam Ransom)
Posters to be Presented:
  • Framing the Future: Grounding Post-2015 Land Governance in Practical Action and Grassroots Women's Priorities (Becca Asaki & Katherine Shelley)
  • Women's leadership in a man's world: Grassroots women's approaches in securing and protecting land rights (Frances Birungi)
If you have further questions, or are in Washington, D.C. and would like to attend this conference, please contact Katherine Shelley at [email protected] 


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The Huairou Commission is a global membership and partnership coalition that empowers grassroots women's organizations to enhance their community development practice and to exercise collective political power at the global level.

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