Considering ongoing collective work on land, housing and natural resources

Publish Date: 
Wednesday, April 18, 2018

With approximately one half of the ESCR-Net’s organizational members working on land, housing and natural resources (LHNR) in some way, it is apparent that these are central issues in the field of economic, social and cultural rights (ESCR).

From 10-11 March 2018—during the 62nd UN Commission on the Status of Women—ESCR-Net brought together a diverse set of member representatives in a strategy meeting that will guide the Network’s work on these critical issues, attentive to the different and disproportionate impacts on women and their vital leadership in related struggles and alternative visions. Approximately one-third of the participants came from social movements and grassroots organizations.

Members participating in the meeting include: Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact, Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development (APWLD), Association of Women’s Rights in Development (AWID), Center for Women's Global Leadership (CWGL), Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales (CELS), Consejo de Pueblos Wuxhtaj, Endorois Welfare Counsel, European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC), FIAN International - Food First Information and Action Network, Habitat International Coalition (HIC), Economic and Social Rights Centre (Hakijamii), Instituto de Liderazgo Simone de Beauvoir, Movimiento Unificado Francisco Sánchez-1932 (MUFRAS-32), Ogiek Peoples’ Development Program, Tebtebba Foundation (Indigenous Peoples' Centre for Policy Research and Education), and World Forum of Fisher Peoples.

The meeting enabled members to examine ESCR-Net’s prior relevant work on land, housing and natural resources, explore openings for ongoing collective projects and envision potential long-term impacts.

Prior to this strategy meeting

Over time, the Network has dedicated extensive efforts to challenge large-scale dispossession, including forced displacement of communities in the context of “development” projects, such as: projects on Development-Induced Displacement, strategic case support to members challenging mega-projects prompting forced displacement, and advocacy to promote alternative models of development and challenge systemic violations associated with development finance. Throughout ESCR-Net’s history, the System of Solidarity has also addressed multiple forms of reprisals against human rights defenders, challenging displacement, evictions and dispossession of livelihoods.

ESCR-Net has also sought to strengthen and implement international standards, as well as use related processes as spaces for mobilization. This has included in-person and written briefings on women’s ESCR in the context of land and housing to the UN Committee on ESCR and UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women to inform the development of a General Recommendation and Comments, as well an emerging UN treaty on human rights and business. Collective efforts have also advanced implementation of landmark decisions by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights and Inter-American Human Rights Commission, while using these processes as opportunities to strengthen women’s leadership.

The Network has also undertaken work to strengthen the leadership of social movements and grassroots groups, particularly of grassroots women in struggles for land, housing and natural resource rights. This has taken the form of mutual learning and exchange, including attention to the ways in which social movement strategies have made use of the human rights framework, captured in “Land in the Struggle for Justice: Social movement strategies to secure human rights.” An upcoming second strategic exchange of grassroots women leaders involved in LHNR struggles that will take place in Kenya this May.

Proposals for ongoing collective action

The strategy meeting built on these three primary strategies. Participants identified openings to advance collective goals, defined provisional long-term (5-10 year) transformative impacts and envisioned outcomes and priority activities for the coming 2-3 years.

While the outcomes from this exercise are currently being reviewed and refined by the wider Network, initial proposals include:

  • Initiatives to discourage the commodification of land, challenge the legality of land dispossession and amplify inclusive alternative models that foreground land as a basis for livelihoods, culture and life;

  • Opportunities to strengthen legal standards relating to land, housing and natural resources, including via a binding treaty on business and human rights, a forthcoming General Comment on land from the CESCR, thematic reports from Special Procedures mandate holders, and the draft declaration on the rights of peasants;

  • Continued efforts to support the implementation of legal decisions deriving from international and regional human rights bodies relating to land, housing and natural resource rights;

  • Collective work to advance grassroots women’s leadership, rights and engagement in decision-making processes;

  • Collective work to address the complex security and protection concerns that grassroots women human rights defenders often face; and

  • Future exchanges of knowledge, experiences and lessons learned.

Meeting participants also addressed the public narratives that are built and sustained around struggles for land, housing and natural resource rights, by countering the stories that activists and human rights advocates tell about their own struggles with those developed by their adversaries. A discussion regarding approaches to overcoming historic divisions within the field of land, housing and natural resource rights led to a reflection on emerging points of consensus across ESCR-Net’s diverse membership.

A complete strategy plan for this area of work will be developed following input received from the broader Network membership and further consideration about openings to advance human rights and social justice in the coming years.