Blog Uncovering the Barriers to Rural Women's Land Rights in Kyrgyzstan: A Conversation with Mirlan Aitkaziev

Uncovering the Barriers to Rural Women's Land Rights in Kyrgyzstan A Conversation with Mirlan Aitkaziev

A collaborative initiative examines the complex issue of womens’ land rights in Kyrgyzstan.

On a global level, rural women face disproportionately high barriers to secure land tenure. Lack of access to and control over land and the necessary resources to use it productively pose significant hurdles to rural women’s empowerment and livelihoods. Many factors limit women’s land rights, including discriminatory policies and socio-cultural norms that favour men as landholders and heirs.  

To address these barriers, the Global Initiative ‘Securing Women’s Resource Rights through Gender Transformative Approaches’ has piloted approaches to tackle the root causes of gender inequality in land tenure in six countries: Bangladesh, Colombia, Ethiopia, The Gambia, Kyrgyzstan, and Uganda. In each country, the Global Initiative worked closely with a large IFAD-funded country project to integrate actions to strengthen women’s land rights through gender transformative approaches

In Kyrgyzstan, the Global Initiative collaborated with the Access to Markets Project (ATMP), which aims to raise incomes and enhance economic growth in Kyrgyzstan's pastoralist communities. Mehrigiul Ablezova of PIL LLC spoke with ATMP coordinator Mirlan Aitkaziev about his experience incorporating a gender transformative perspective on women’s land rights into the project and participating in a global workshop where experiences from the six pilot countries were presented and discussed. 

Interview with Mirlan Aitkaziev 

Q: Mirlan, can you tell us how the ATMP project worked with the Global Initiative to pilot approaches that strengthen women’s land rights? 

Mirlan Aitkaziev: Our project worked closely with the Global Initiative to learn more about barriers to women's land rights in Kyrgyzstan. We started by selecting communities in the north (Issyk-Kul oblast) and in the south (Batken oblast) of the country where the Global Initiative would conduct research on the status of women’s land rights. Once the initial research was completed, the Global Initiative developed a pilot that included many activities in some of the communities, including capacity-building activities and innovative approaches to raise awareness about women's legal rights to land. 

Participants from the pilot at a training on financial literacy that surfaced issues of women’s land rights and gender equality. Credit: Buazhar Abdykadyrova 

Q: Can you share key findings from this work that are relevant to the ATMP and future projects? 

Mirlan Aitkaziev: Results from the Global Initiative research revealed some fundamental problems that had previously gone unnoticed in our project. Kyrgyz law states that women and men have equal land rights, but in practice, land rights are frequently dominated by men. Despite having equal rights under the law, women face significant socio-cultural barriers to claiming these rights. Often, women can only access and benefit from land through their male relatives.  

Typically, Kyrgyz family land is registered to the head of the family – who, in our culture, is usually the man. While women heads of household exist, we discovered that many of these women register their land in their sons’ names rather than their own. This likely stems from deep-rooted norms, as women fear judgment from their communities if they try to claim these traditionally ‘male’ assets. 

We also found that religious structures and beliefs contribute to women’s insecure land tenure. In some cases, issues of land rights are decided by Islamic leaders at the village level. In land disputes, it’s common for these religious authorities to intervene and insist that the land rightfully belongs to the man. These customary practices often supersede women’s legal land rights.  

Q: Have the results of the Global Initiative influenced your existing work or the work you plan to do in the future?  

Mirlan Aitkaziev: Yes, the findings will definitely be relevant for future projects. We can use our new awareness of women’s challenges in claiming their land rights to design more equitable interventions. For example, when selecting programme beneficiaries, we can design inclusion criteria that request women heads of households to have registered land and support them to achieve this. This way, we can incentivize and encourage women to register land in their own names, in a way that benefits the whole family. 

Q: In February 2024, you participated in a cross-country learning workshop in Nairobi where you interacted with participants from the other pilot countries from the Global Initiative and from around the world. Was the workshop useful for you? 

Mirlan Aitkaziev: This workshop raised new questions for me about women’s land rights in other countries. It was an eye-opener that many countries do not even have a legislative basis for equal rights to land, unlike Kyrgyzstan. In some places, these legal rights are just being developed, and in others, the issue is not even on the table! That surprised me. 

It was interesting that in many countries, tradition prevails. As I mentioned earlier, traditions and customs are often more influential than legal frameworks. In many countries, like ours, traditions make or break women’s rights of access to land. Since we are struggling with the same problems, it was useful to see that different countries have different approaches to ensuring access to resources for women and youth. This provided us with tools we can apply in future projects. 

Q: Do you have any additional insights or impressions from your experience with the Global Initiative that you would like to share? 

Mirlan Aitkaziev: I think we need to expand the initiative to do more pilots in other regions of Kyrgyzstan. This is a diverse country with many different traditions, territorial differences, and dialects. It would be good to continue research on this topic in these different contexts.  

There are also other issues regarding land and women. Land tenure is only the first step. Once women own the land, they still need additional support to benefit from it equitably. It’s often difficult for women to access necessary services to cultivate these lands. Going forward, we will need to develop and conduct projects that take these additional barriers into account. 

The Global Initiative ‘Securing Women’s Resource Rights through Gender Transformative Approaches’ is funded by IFAD and implemented by a consortium of CGIAR centers, including CIFOR-ICRAF, the Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT, and the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI). In Kyrgyzstan, the Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT partnered with PIL LLC to develop and implement the pilots. Resources from the Kyrgyzstan pilot can be accessed here in English, Russian and/or Kyrgyz. 

Header Image: Mirlan Aitkaziev from the Agricultural Projects Implementation Unit (APIU) of the Ministry of Agriculture is the coordinator of the Access to Markets Project (ATMP). Credit: APIU Archives