ACWF's Proposal on Safeguarding Women's Land Rights through Legislation

March 12, 2018
By Women of ChinaEditor: Liu Yang

ACWF raises a proposal to the 13th National People's Congress (NPC) suggests an urgent need to include the protection of women's land rights into the Law on Land Contract in Rural Areas and the draft of the civil code connected with marriage and family affairs.

President Xi Jinping in his report to the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC) said, "We will consolidate and improve the basic rural operation system, advance reform of the rural land system, and improve the system for separating the ownership rights, contract rights, and management rights for contracted rural land."

China has pressed ahead with the verification, registration and certification of land contract and management rights over the past few years. Meanwhile, positive progress has been made in piloting the reform of homesteads, collectively owned land parcels for construction and collective property rights system in rural areas.

Many people have benefitted from their management of farmland, homestead use and corresponding transfers in the process. However, the protection of rural people's property rights has been generally conducted in the basic unit of the household.

In light of the following reasons, therefore, we hold that there is in an urgent need to ensure that equality prevails in the distribution of earnings amongst all family members and better safeguard women's land rights.

1) No clear definition over intra-household lawful relations

According to China's Law on Land Contract in Rural Areas, the contractor of a land agreement should be a rural household of a relevant collective economic organization. Meanwhile, the Land Administration Law states that the distribution of homesteads should be based on the unit of the household.

All members of a household have an equal right to use their jointly owned farmland, reap profits from agricultural production and voice their opinions about how to dispose of involved land. They have formed legal binding relations in the process.

However, many disputes have originated from the absence of a clear specifications over the distribution of jointly-owned control amongst all members of a rural family, which exercises a negative effect upon the transfer of farmland, the protection of equal access to profits, and the maintenance of social harmony and stability in rural regions.

2) An urgency to clarify rural women's property rights in a household

As China's villages have been built on the basis of patriarchy for a long time, most rural women belong to at least two families during their life. The situation becomes more complicated if they get divorced. Therefore, it is not stable and everlasting enough for them to benefit from land contracts and homestead use.

For instance, women automatically lose their rights concerning land contracts and homestead use in their parents' home when they get married. They are expected to encounter similar conditions if they split up with their husband.

There is no guarantee for women to have a good knowledge of their family property and get involved in relevant decision-making processes because social conventions often intentionally belittle women in comparison with men. Many divorced women in rural areas will be plunged into dire straits with no place to live and no land or income to support themselves if they have not remarried.

The All-China Women's Federation (ACWF) received a total of 8,807 letters of complaint in relation to the encroachment of rural women's land rights in 2016 and 2017 , a 182 percent increase compared with that from 2014-2015.

3) Progress made in confirming women's rights as a family member

The Ministry of Agriculture and the ACWF released a joint statement in 2014 to promote the valuable experience acquired from their pilot programs concerning the protection of women's land contract rights in the county of Fengyang, east China's Anhui Province. They proposed that women's names should be included in the registration book and rights certificate of contracted farmland, with the aim of ensuring they have equal rights to men in both legal documents and actual life.

According to the Ministry of Agriculture, the names of all family members will be written into recently issued certificates of the right to contracted management of rural land. The work is expected to be completed by the end of this year.

"As an indispensable component of a household, women's rights in relation to homesteads must be given expression in the registration book and rights certificate for real estate. For those women who have moved out of their original collective economic organization concerned at the time of divorce, their homestead use rights should be legally verified and registered in the registration book of new households when they automatically lose their previous rights," said the Ministry of Land and Resources in a circular concerning the work to facilitate the verification, registration and certification of homestead use and collectively owned land parcels for construction in December 2016.

Such a registration by relevant central authorities has made a clear description of all involved family members' homestead usage rights.

The proposed civil code connected with marriage and family affairs should only make an emphasis over the principle of equality in the distribution of family property amongst households' members, which can provide needy persons with legal support for the protection of their lawful rights and interests.

4) Women-included registration work beneficial to boost their enthusiasm for rural development

According to a research conducted by ACWF's Legal Department in Sichuan, Anhui and Shandong provinces several years ago, rural women whose land rights and interests have been covered in the registration book of land contracts are more likely to take part in vocational training, read technical books and watch relevant TV programs in comparison with their peers without such privileges.

The survey showed that a clear stipulation of rural women's land rights as being equal to their husband's will produce a positive effect in inspiring their enthusiasm, and creativity in participation for agricultural productivity.

Therefore, we suggest that the National People's Congress (NPC), the top legislature in the country, should add the stipulation that "All members in a household shall enjoy equal access to their lawful rights and interests concerned" into the Law on Land Contract in Rural Areas.

In the meantime, the proposed civil code connected with marriage and family affairs shall make an explicit statement that "All members in a household are entitled to equal access to their land contract and management as well as other jointly owned properties. Each person can seek a proper compensation for their loss after a relationship breakdown."

(Women of China)

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