Targeting Success In The Post-2015 Development Agenda

Jun 06, 2014
Targeting Success In The Post-2015 Development Agenda

By Tim Hanstad, President and CEO, Landesa

Arguably, there is no other continent on the planet that has more at stake in the post-2015 development agenda discussions than Africa.

Africa is largely seen as having made the least progress toward the existing Millennium Development Goals, and much of the current discussion is focused on finding more meaningful, cross cutting, fair, and impactful goals and targets, and ways to measure them that are as relevant to Africa as they are to other areas.

As world leaders, including those from Tanzania, Ghana, and Kenya which plays a prominent role in the discussions as a member of the Open Working Group, continue these discussions to shape the post-2015 development agenda, it is useful to step back and consider the Middle-eastern parable of the drunkard and the streetlight.

The story is that one night, a police officer sees a drunk man searching under a streetlight and he asks what the man has lost. The man responds that he lost his keys and they proceed to search together. After a few minutes, the police officer asks if the man is sure he lost them near the streetlight.  The man responds, no, he lost his keys in the park, but he is searching near the streetlight because “that is where the light is.”

In the current dialogue regarding the framework to replace the Millennium Development Goals (set to expire in 2015), our leaders have to guard against this “observational bias.”  We need them to carefully select the goals, targets, and indicators that best guide the fight against global poverty and inequality and best measure progress, rather than choosing goals, targets or indicators that are less meaningful but can be measured relatively easily.

Acknowledging that it is often extremely difficult to reliably measure what is really important—we must and can do better.

Take secure land rights for women and men for example.  There is a growing chorus of voices – including governments, civil society, and other world leaders – calling for the issue to be explicitly included in the post-2015 development agenda because strengthening such rights, particularly for women, can help address multiple development goals.  Tanzania’s own experience supports this.

Most recently, the Open Working Group co-chairs identified rights and access to land, property, and other assets and resources as a critical cross cutting issue and priority concern under four focus areas – poverty eradication, gender equality, food security, and ecosystems and rule of law.  A target to increase and strengthen land rights for women and men under one or more goals in the SDG/post-2015 agenda will contribute mightily to other goals as well as explained in this infographic and this website.

But to ensure that we are working towards precise and impactful goals and targets, we need to also meaningfully measure progress.

Take women’s land rights in particular.

An estimated 70 percent of Africa’s farmers are women.  The vast majority don’t formally own the land they farm. In fact, their rights over the land are disadvantaged by a web of statutory law, customary laws, norms, and traditions.

So how can we measure their rights to land?

One approach could simply look at the degree to which a country’s laws recognize women’s rights to own, control, and inherit land.  Countries across Africa have implemented laws that formally assert equal rights for women to ownership of land and property – an important step in strengthening women’s land rights.  But the reality on the ground frequently tells a different story.

Consider the situation for Tanzania’s women. Both the Land Act and Village Land Act (enacted in 1999) provide women with unprecedented rights and protections, specifically stipulating that women can own property. However, it is widely understood that both formal and customary law can undermine these very rights and protections in the context of inheritance. The Tanzania Women’s Lawyers Association maintained in a recent report, “Women as widows and daughters need an independent right to inherit the share of their deceased husband’s or father’s property so that they can be able to freely lead peaceful lives and look after their children.” And now, a small coalition called the Mama Ardhi Alliance (Swahili for “Motherland Alliance”) is pushing to have language that explicitly protects women’s land rights, based on a similar provision in the Kenyan constitution, included in Tanzania’s new constitution, which is currently under development.

Certainly, achieving explicit constitutional recognition of women’s land rights would be a tremendous step forward. And while measuring such legal frameworks may be the easiest route to assessing secure land rights for women, it is also the most fraught with the potential for false positives. We know that the existence of laws, policies and regulations protecting women’s rights – while important and necessary– does not mean that women can actually exercise those rights.

This lack of substantial progress for women on the ground is not unique to Tanzania or Africa. Therefore instead of simply looking at the quality of the law, it is essential to propose a measure that better reflects whether women in fact have secure rights to land.

A better, though acknowledged harder, measure of progress, is the percent of women and the percent of men whose rights to land and other productive resources are documented with a title or other formal record. This should be complemented by a measurement of the percent of women and the percent of men who perceive that their rights to land and other productive resources are secure. Documentation and perception represent both sides of the land tenure security coin and convey concrete reality for women and men.

We need to ensure that current efforts to formulate a new path forward and to identify the missing dimensions of the Millennium Development Goals are not an exercise in futility that reflects theory rather than reality.  We need to guard against the natural inclination to search under the streetlight because it is easier.

Measuring progress on this target would go a long way toward revealing whether women in particular, are realizing their rights on the ground and whether land and other resources are secure so that women and men are better positioned on the path out of poverty.

Tim Hanstad is a Law Lecturer at University of Washington School of Law and President and CEO of Landesa, a global development non-profit that works to secure land rights for the world’s poor women and men. Follow us @Landesa_Global and visit

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