Landesa, a Seattle-based NGO with offices in Kolkata, West Bengal, designed and implemented a project called Security for Girls Through Land (“The Girls Project”).1 The project was launched in 2010 with the aim to improve girls’ social and economic status by increasing girls’ and the communities’ understanding of girls’ land-related rights, including inheritance rights, and to provide some training on land-based livelihoods. The project was designed with the recognition that issues of dowry, early marriage, girls’ status in the community, land ownership/inheritance, and trafficking are closely intertwined social issues rooted in entrenched community beliefs. Legal reforms such as the Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act of 2005 allowing for equal inheritance rights to ancestral property, the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 prohibiting the giving or taking of dowry, and the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act 2006 have been marginally effective to completely ineffectual. The initial project grant period was 2010-2015, yet the project continues on with government support and additional donor funding.
The Girls Project involved 1) formation of girls groups to learn about land and inheritance rights and land-based livelihoods, 2) formation of boys’ groups and 3) community conversations around land rights, inheritance, dowry, and marriage.
Landesa partnered with the West Bengal Department of Women and Children to pilot a land rights curriculum through SABLA, a national government-funded program that forms groups of adolescent girls in rural villages and educates them on nutrition and health. Landesa added land rights and inheritance and land-based livelihoods modules to the existing curriculum.
Adolescent boys received training through short and targeted school programs. Creating model boys’ groups similar to the girls’ groups was unsuccessful, as adolescent boys in rural areas spend time in income-generating activities. Schools also provided an institutional partner to potential scale this work.
Landesa also worked with the local elected government, the Panchayat, as they are the first stop for families for inheritance and land dispute resolution. Many Panchayats had not received education about equal inheritance laws nor did they have a standard system for certifying family members, a requirement at the land office to change land records.
Community meetings were held to raise discussion around issues of daughter’s dowry and inheritance. There remains a need for skilled facilitation and finding an institutional partner to scale the project.
By 2015, the Girls Project had provided land rights training to 48,000 girls.
Phase one impact evaluation found that girls in the intervention were 24% more likely to earn their own income, 15% more likely to have a financial asset, predicted to marry one-and-a-half years later, 24% more likely to inherit land, and 13% less likely to drop out of school.
Landesa, "Security for Girls through Land: Pilot evaluation (2012-2013)" (December 2013).