Rural Women, Food Security, and the Right to the Land

*This is an excerpt from PKKK’s Rural Women Status Report on CEDAW 2011.

Rural women secure our food – in the family, they do subsistence gardening and livestock raising to provide food on the table; in the national level, they engage in primary crops production such as rice, corn, coconut, sugar, and vegetables.  Studies show that in food production, women work 25 hours longer than men do in a week[1], which is estimated to account for 45 to 60 percent of food production in Asia.

In the Philippines, the  women in agriculture spend as much as eight to eleven hours a day in productive and reproductive work—i.e. acquiring capital for farming (usually through credit), carrying out planting activities, marketing the primary crop and backyard produce, and providing for their household’s daily survival needs. They also spend from one to six hours daily for domestic work, which includes activities like preparing farm tools and food for farm laborers, fetching water, gardening, foraging, wood gathering, raising poultry and livestock, and other livelihood activities. During the off-season, the women in agriculture spend more time in domestic chores, as well as augmenting cash income.   They accomplish these things because at the end of the day, rural women bear the responsibility of producing food on the table.  In fact, 60 percent of rural women exercise sole decision-making in their family households over what food to prepare for the family[2].

This role has been underscored in the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). Hence, Article 14 of CEDAW specifically mandates State Parties, such as the Philippine government, to consider and address “the particular problems faced by rural women and the significant roles which they play in the economic survival of their families, including their work in the non-monetized sectors of the economy.” This mandate also covers the right of women to “equal treatment in land and agrarian reform.”

Indeed, there is no other way of securing our food than empowering the women in terms of having access to and control over the land. But despite being the prime movers of food security, women bear the brunt of hunger the most.  They suffer from income disparities and economic displacement and get a pittance from productive resources of the country.  For instance, in the twenty-year old Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program/ CARP or Republic Act 6657 (1988 to 2008), peasant women comprised less than a third of those who have been listed as beneficiaries. Touted to promote social justice and uplift the status of the rural poor through the “land to the tiller” program, CARP seemed to have held back its promise from the peasant women.  It was not until 2009, with the enactment of CARP Extension with Reforms or the Republic Act 9700, also known as CARPER, that the rural women had a glimpse of hope in possibly enjoying equal treatment in land and agrarian reform.  Several rural women’s groups and advocates, such as PKKK, took advantage of the legislation of a CARP extension so as to assert their rights and interests.  This was later complemented by the Magna Carta of Women or the Republic Act 9710, enacted shortly after CARPER.

The following section shares the gender issues that confronted rural women in the early agrarian reform implementation and the reforms forwarded by the new law.  Offhand though, the rural women’s hope on the new law is dwindling, for there remains the challenge of truly implementing the gender-related reforms.  There’s only about three remaining years in the CARP’s extension program (until 2014) and yet, the implementing guideline for Gender Equality in Implementing Agrarian Reform Laws has not been released.

Women’s Situation in the early CARP Implementation[3]

Given that women are estimated to comprise 70 percent of the poor population, a social justice program such as CARP should mean seeking equality not only between the landed and the landless, but also between men and women.   In 2007, the Department of Agrarian Reform reported that there were about 506,571 women who were actual recipients of the land title.  This comprised around 27percent of the reported 1,845,272 farm beneficiaries.  This was actually an improvement compared to the gender data provided in the 2005 ARC Level of Development Assessment Reports. From 2001 to 2005, the percentage of women ARBs in the ARCs averaged only at 23percent.

The RA 6657 (Chapter 10, Section 40, No.5) mandated that all qualified women members of the agricultural labor force must be guaranteed and assured equal rights to ownership of land, equal shares of the farm’s produce, and representation in advisory or appropriate decision-making bodies.  However, the problem of targeting women as beneficiaries can be considered as a result of systematic and systemic discrimination of women farmers.  This implies discrimination that permeates the levels of programs and policies (systematic), and level of beliefs and values, which is more systemic (economic, political and socio-cultural).

Two major concerns illustrate how the systemic and systematic practices of discrimination against peasant women manifest in the agrarian reform program; namely, the (1) exclusion of peasant women from the identification of agrarian reform beneficiaries (ARBs) and (2) subordination of women beneficiaries in agrarian reform titling for spouses and in other support services that ARBs are entitled to.

On women’s right as individual ARB

“Women are qualified to become agrarian reform beneficiaries in their own right, not only as spouses of agrarian reform beneficiaries. For as long as a female farmer’s right have vested and have been established separately from her husband’s or her father’s she is entitled to receive land under the program.” (Agrarian Law and Jurisprudence, F. M. Bacungan and Associates)  Administrative Order No. 2, Series of 1993, recognized that farm workers who are husband and wife may be separately entitled to three (3) hectares each provided that their vested rights to the land have been duly established. Each of the spouses shall be issued a separate CLOA.[4]

However, despite their vested rights, there are women farmers who have been excluded from the list of agrarian reform beneficiaries in many occasions.  These cases include women farmers who were not identified as individual ARBs because their husbands have already been identified as such.  This situation prevailed regardless if the women have been farm workers or have been tilling the land even before marriage.

Case #1. [5]  A 35-year old woman, who has been tilling their land since she was 14, was not qualified as farmer beneficiary to the Hacienda dela Rama lands in Negros.  DAR justified this under the so-called practice of “one family, one CLOA.”  Being a survivor of frequent beatings and threats inflicted by her husband, she finds it more than necessary to have a land to her own name.  Along with other five women farmers, she has signed a petition to DAR for inclusion, but to no avail.  To complicate the situation, private armed goons destroyed her house because she has been identified as the leader of the farmers’ group that advocated for the CARP coverage of the said Hacienda.   This seems to be the trend among farmer-beneficiaries in other hacienda lands, e.g. in Hacienda Benedicto, the CLOAs were registered only in the name of their husbands.

This situation can be linked closely with how these women farmers have been likewise discriminated as farm workers.  Many of them have lower wages compared with the men and do not receive social security benefits.   Some may not even be reflected in the payroll, which is one of the bases for identifying farmer beneficiaries.

On women’s rights as spouses of beneficiaries.

DAR’s AO2 provisions were further interpreted in the issuance of Memorandum Circular 18 (MC18) series of 1996, entitled “Clarificatory Guideline in the manner of Generating and Issuing Emancipation Patents/ Certificates of Land Ownership Award (EPs/CLOAs) to Qualified Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries and their Spouses pursuant to RA no. 7192.”   MC 18 further classified the women beneficiaries according to their work on the farm, particularly whether they are “working” or “cultivating” on the land and whether the land is a “common tillage” or “separate tillages.”   In particular, MC18 clarifies that for spouse-beneficiaries, if only one spouse is cultivating then the title should use “married to,” but when both are cultivating, the title should use “and.”  However, if both spouses are working separately and each of their vested rights has been established, then each would be given individual titles.

It can be said that the MC 18 formulation is closer to the CEDAW perspective, which clearly recognizes the work that women farmers do in the farm.  The MC 18 establishes women’s relationship to the land.

But there had been an assertion that under this Memorandum Circular, women who are spouses of agrarian reform beneficiaries could be taken to mean as being required to cultivate the land, aside from the cultivation undertaken by their husbands. According to the Agrarian Law and Jurisprudence, “To require separate cultivation by spouses of male agrarian reform beneficiaries would work against, rather than protect, the interests of women. This requirement fails to recognize the role of women in the rural household, particularly in agrarian areas. Women are usually given reproductive tasks, such as upbringing of children, household chores, and other work having to do with the maintenance of the home.  An additional burden of cultivating the land would be harshly onerous upon women who are spouses of beneficiaries.”  This was followed by recommendations to harmonize the titling of the land according to the Civil Code and Family Code.

But fact is, women are cultivating the land while they are performing household work, which explains why women purportedly work longer hours than the men (25 hours difference in a week).  The MC 18 does not require separate cultivation but rather merely recognizes existing set-up.

While it is also our concern that women are doubly burdened by undertaking productive and reproductive roles in agrarian areas, this should not be used as an excuse for a different treatment in the ownership of the land.  Women’s right to cultivate their own land becomes less of a burden when household members share the work in the household.

Further, studies have shown that women’s equal ownership of the land have increased women’s bargaining power in the household, thereby resulting to significant gains in agricultural productivity, and improvement in the health, longevity, and productivity of her children.

It is not clear to us if the issue of requiring the women to cultivate the land is the reason for revising the MC18.  What is clear is that in 2001, the DAR Administrative Order No. 1, (AO1) or the “Guidelines Governing the Non-gender Biased Implementation of Agrarian Laws,” harmonized the conditions for titling with the Family Code and the Civil Code.  Legally married spouses shall have their names joined by phrase “married to,” which also indicates conjugal ownership of the awarded land.  On the other hand, common-law spouses shall have their names joined by the phrase “and.”  Their ownership ceiling is still 3 hectares, “unless either spouse has established vested right to receive land separately from him or her partner, in which case, each spouse may be entitled to a maximum of three hectares.”

This AO 1 does not differentiate titling according to the woman’s relationship to the land, i.e. whether she is cultivating directly the land or not; it differentiates titling according to her relationship with the husband. And while it has been argued that legally, there is no discrimination between the use of “married to” and “and;” actually and culturally, there is.

Rural women who have been consulted on the matter attested that the use of “and” in the land title reflects a stronger claim to ownership of the land.  Agrarian reform titles reflect who the rural development movers are.  Hence, there is a prevailing notion that those women whose names were made adjunct through the word “married to” are not primary developers of the land.

Case #2. [6]    Becka and her husband have been cultivating a portion of a 12 hectare foreclosed land in Bunawan, Agusan Sur.  Before CARP coverage, her husband’s daily routine was to leave at around 7 a.m. in the morning to undertake functions in the barangay, leaving Becka to tend to their field.  Their crops include rice, banana, coconut and other fruit-bearing trees.  Her husband had more opportunity to relate with the provincial DAR office concerning the agrarian reform processes.  In 1999, the certificate of land ownership award was issued in the name of Becka’s husband.  In an interview, Becka said that she would have preferred the title indicated both of their names; “Mas maganda kung Mr. & Mrs,” she said.  Becka lamented that when she and her husband quarreled, her husband would often remark that he alone could decide on what to do with the land.

“Hope” under the new law.  The gender issues surrounding old CARP took a different turn with the context of the provisions in the new law – CARPER:

SEC. 1. Declaration of Principles and Policies.

“The State shall recognize and enforce, consistent with existing laws, the rights of rural women to own and control land, taking into consideration the substantive equality between men and women as qualified beneficiaries, to receive a just share of the fruits thereof, and to be represented in advisory or appropriate decision-making bodies. These rights shall be independent of their male relatives and of their civil status.

SEC. 2. Definitions.

(1) Rural women refer to women who are engaged directly or indirectly in farming and/or fishing as their source of livelihood, whether paid or unpaid, regular or seasonal, or in food preparation, managing the household, caring for the children, and other similar activities.

Sec. 5. Priorities.

The PARC shall establish guidelines to implement the above priorities and distribution scheme, including the determination of who are qualified beneficiaries……. Provided, furthermore, That rural women shall be given the opportunity to participate in the development planning and implementation of this Act: Provided, finally, That in no case should the agrarian reform beneficiaries’ sex, economic, religious, social, cultural and political attributes adversely affect the distribution of lands.

Sec. 14. Support Services for the Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries.

The PARC shall likewise adopt, implement, and monitor policies and programs to ensure the fundamental equality of women and men in the agrarian reform program as well as respect for the human rights, social protection, and decent working conditions of both paid and unpaid men and women farmer-beneficiaries.

Sec. 15. Equal Support Services for Rural Women.

Support services shall be extended equally to women and men agrarian reform beneficiaries.

The PARC shall ensure that these support services, as provided for in this Act, integrate the specific needs and well-being of women farmer- beneficiaries taking into account the specific requirements of female family members of farmer- beneficiaries.

The PARC shall also ensure that rural women will be able to participate in all community activities. To this effect, rural women are entitled to self-organization in order to obtain equal access to economic opportunities and to have access to agricultural credit and loans, marketing facilities and technology, and other support services, and equal treatment in land reform and resettlement schemes.

The DAR shall establish and maintain a women’s desk, which will be primarily responsible for formulating and implementing programs and activities related to the protection and promotion of women’s rights, as well as providing an avenue where women can register their complaints and grievances principally related t o their rural activities.

Sec.17. The Presidential Agrarian Reform Council.

That at least one (1)of them shall come from a duly recognized national organization of rural women or a national organization of agrarian reform beneficiaries with a substantial number of women members: Provided, finally, That at least twenty percent (20%) of the members of the PARC shall be women but in no case shall they be less than two.

PKKK  LEGISLATIVE  ADVOCACIES related to Land Rights (2013-2016)

PKKK believes that the Rural Women Agenda will be sustained by the passage of the following:

  1. National Land Use Act– An Act instituting a National Land Use Policy Providing the Implementing Mechanisms therefor and for other purposes.
  2. Watershed Bill– An Act to Promote the Protection, Conservation and Rehabilitation of Watersheds Supporting the National Irrigation System (NIS) to Guarantee Continuing Supply of Water for Agricultural Production to Increase the Productivity of Farmers to Sustain Food Sufficiency and Providing the Funding thereof
  3. Forest Limits Act of 2013- An Act Providing for the Delineation of the Specific Forest Limits of the Public Domain and for Other Purpose
  4. Amendment to the NIPAS Act o RA No. 7586– An Act Providing for the Establishment and Management of National Integrated Protected Areas system, Defining its Scope and Coverage and for Other Purpos
  5. Rural Empowerment Bill– Ensuring rural women’s equal access to land, water and other resources and support services.


[1], Women as Food Producers, Interactive Population Center, UNFPA, Accessed in 2002.

[2] Centro Saka Inc., “Survey Findings: Who are the Women in Agriculture”, Rural Development Review, Vol.2 No. 2, 2008.

[3] Following portion has been cited in PKKK’s several position papers in its CARPER lobby efforts.

[4] What is “vested right”?   Balboa vs. Farrales, (G.R. No. 27059, (1928), defines it “as some right or interest in property which has become fixed and established and is no longer open to doubt or controversy”.  Also, the Supreme Court explained that “rights are vested when the right to enjoyment, present or prospective, has become the property of some particular person or persons as a present interest.”

[5] FIAN-monitored Cases on Gender Discrimination in Agrarian Reform.  FIAN stands for Foodfirst Information and Action Network.

[6] Interview with Becka was conducted by Daryl Leyesa last 31 March 2006.


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