FIG Task Force on Under-Represented Groups in Surveying




Women’s Rights to Land, Housing and Property in Post-Conflict Situations and During Construction
Press Announcement by Habitat

Personalities: Wendy J. Woodbury Straight

Women and Science: some facts, some impressions
by Marysa Demoor, Belgium

Women’s Rights to Land, Housing and Property in Post-Conflict
Situations and During Construction

Press Announcement by Habitat

The Land and Tenure Unit at Shelter Branch in the United Nations Centre of Human settlements (Habitat) is pleased to announce the online publication of " Women’s Rights to Land, Housing and Property in Post-Conflict Situations and During Construction". This research study was conducted with the support of the Government of Sweden.

The publication is available on line and can be downloaded on word format in the web site of the Global Campaign for Secure Tenure: and then follow the link "publications".

The international community is beginning to recognize that women’s lack of rights in, access to and land control over land, housing and property constitutes a violation of human rights and contributes significantly to women’s increasing poverty.

Despite the importance of land, housing and property to women, women generally lack security of tenure. This is largely a result of

  1. gender biases laws which are at their best only protecting married women and at their worst do not protect women at all;
  2. legal systems which are inaccessible to women or which privilege customary law over statutory law;
  3. land and property titling systems which grant title to men rather than women or which require payment for land/house which women cannot afford; and
  4. discriminatory lending or credit policies.

If women’s enjoyment of their rights to land, housing and property is obstructed during times of relative peace, their enjoyment of these rights during conflict situations is nearly prohibited. In the first place, conflict draws men away from their communities and requires women to perform all the functions of the head of household, which is particularly difficult under wartime conditions where access to food, water, labour and transport is obstructed. Second as a result of the economic hardship and violence associated with conflict, women often have to flee their homes and any land or property. third, on the post-conflict era, women either face the same lack of access or be confronted by customary laws which in turn increase the status of homelessness and landless of women in post-conflict situations and during reconstruction.

The post-conflict reconstruction phase offers an opportunity to redress women’s lack of rights in, access to and control over land, housing and property. However, this seldom occurs. Women find that upon returning home, their new roles are retrenched, and their pre-conflict, social roles are reinstated. In part, this is because women are excluded from decision making processes relevant to reconstruction (e.g.: peace agreement or land reform negotiations). This results in reconstruction legislation which does not consider or address women’s rights to land, housing and property. For instance, there is a worldwide movement, particularly in the post conflict context, toward the privatization of customary land tenure schemes which rejects community ownership of land in favour of a system where land and houses are purchased and owned by individuals, regardless of sex. While this might appear to be an improvement over customary law, it is not. In fact, for women, privatization of land tenure and housing creates a vicious circle where women cannot purchase land, housing and property in private-market driven schemes because they are poor, economically marginalized and have no access to capital. And, of course, women cannot access capital without land as collateral to secure a loan or to generate an income

The publications offer at the end a set of recommendations to be implemented at the local, national and international levels. among others, a recommendations calling for supporting the efforts of the Global Campaign for Secure Tenure towards eradicating poverty.

For further information please contact


Wendy J. Woodbury Straight is a licensed land surveyor in the state of New York in the United States of America. Because her office is only 30 miles from Pennsylvania, she is licensed in that state as well. In USA land surveyors are licensed by each of the fifty states, not by the country. Surveying standards and procedures vary somewhat from state to state, mostly due the different historic circumstances under which land was developed in each state since colonial times, but also due to ongoing differences in modern land development regulations from state to state.

"To become licensed in one state", Woodbury Straight explained, " we must meet the education and experience qualifications to sit for the two-day examination. Then, we must pass the examination. After that, one does not need to take two more days of tests in other states. To become licensed in Pennsylvania, for example, I was only required to prove that I was already licensed by New York state, and then I was required to pass a 4-hour examination about Pennsylvania procedures."

Prior to becoming a land surveyor, she was a teacher of mathematics and English. After receiving her land surveying license, however, Woodbury Straight replaced her father as the owner and operator of Woodbury Surveying and Geomatics in Dunkirk, NY. That was 17 years ago, and her father and mother are still enjoying their retirement. Her practice is based in the northern portion of Chautauqua County in the western end of New York state. The firm is over 75 years old, and has the survey drawings and the related title information for the past 50 years. For the past few years, most of the paper files have turned into digital records, a project which has greatly facilitated the daily use of the old files. "Since the history of the boundary is important when retracing it", Woodbury Straight said, "we find that the old information is very valuable as a cost saving device for our clients, because it saves time for us."

Woodbury Straight is a past member of the board of directors for the Niagara Frontier Land Surveyors Association, and active in the Allegany Plateau Association as well. Those organizations are both sub-groups of the New York State Association of Professional Land Surveyors. As an active member of the American Congress on Surveying and Mapping (ACSM), she serves as a program evaluator for the accreditation of college and university surveying and geomatics programs. She has also been retained as a columnist for CE News magazine, a trade journal for civil engineers. Her column features news and business advice for surveyors.

With the encouragement of friends, Woodbury Straight put together the Forum for Women in Surveying for ACSM the same year that she took over her dad’s practice. Mary Feindt served as the first president. "At that time, women in surveying were faced with terrible advertising that featured pictures of women in bikinis or lace nightgowns (or less)", Woodbury Straight pointed out, "the women were shown with surveying equipment, and female surveyors were therefore greatly insulted. At first, the industry resented our presence, and some male surveyors greatly resented our efforts to raise our field to a more professional level. In time, though, we gained much more respect, but we never compromised or gave up our right to point out injustices wherever we found them. One of our most successful outreach programs has been the private newsletter Progress and Perspectives, which my husband and I produce every other month with the help of several friends and industry colleagues." Progress and Perspectives covers anything that may affect women and other under-represented persons in the surveying and mapping profession.

Woodbury Straight’s husband is a professor of mathematics and computer science at the State University of New York college in Fredonia. They live on a small farm with several animals that they have rescued from homelessness, including dogs, cats, and horses.

Women and Science: some facts, some impressions

by Marysa Demoor

Recent Development

In spite of the recent revisionist research in the wake of feminism, the rewriting i.e. of history by adding a herstory, and some attempts to stimulate girls into opting for sciences rather than the arts, there are still very few female scientists and, indeed, few women on the highest academic echelons in the Western world. Britain and America lead the way still, it seems, in this emancipation of women academics. Professor Dame Gillian Beer, president of Clare Hall and King Edward VII Professor of Literature was mode a Dame in the autumn of 1998, one of the highest honours that can befall a scholar in Britain.

Elsewhere, somehow the way upward has been halted or of least slowed down these last years. And in some countries progress is slower than in others. One of the most tenacious obstacles in the move towards a greater recruitment of women for the world of science and academia is the widespread belief that the situation now is as good as it can ever get; that there are no problems anymore. If women now do not acquire or fill a substantial number of the best-paid and most influential positions in academia then that is solely due to the fact that they are either not good enough or not willing to work hard enough. If there are so few tenured women scientists then, again, this is due to the scarcity of women finishing a Ph.D. At the University of Gent (Flanders) the first female professor in gynaecology was appointed in 1996.

Then, in May 1997, the academic world [or part of it) was jolted out of its lethargy by an article written by two Swedish scientists, Christine Wennerås and Agnes Wold, on "Nepotism and sexism in peer-review' (Nature, vol 387, 22 May 1997, 341-3) In this article, published in a highly respected journal, two scientists, living in one of the world's most emancipated countries, claim that peer-review scores for post-doctoral fellowship applications are riddled with prejudice. Their research was prompted by the fact that so many more women scientists abandon their academic careers than their male colleagues. Focusing on the situation in the biomedical field in Sweden in 1994, they point out that only 25 percent of the postdoctoral positions awarded by the Swedish Medical Research Council and only 7 per cent of the professorial positions went to women, in spite of the fact that women that year represented 44 per cent of the PhDs.

Assuming the selection process had been objective, Wennerås and Wold decided to scrutinise the evaluation of each of the candidates. Fortunately, Swedish law supported their request to see the evaluation forms filled in by the Swedish MRC commissions. The findings of the two scientists showed that women candidates mainly scored badly when their scientific competence was evaluated. The two researchers therefore compared the applicants' productivity looking at a number of objective parameters such as the number of the scientific publications, the number of the publications as first author, the impact of the journals and the number of citations. The conclusion was staggering. It appeared that only those women with 100 total impact points or more were given an evaluation mark which was comparable to that of some of the male applicants, but then only to those male applicants who scored the lowest, with less than 20 total impact points.

Wennerås and Wold then proceeded to find out why women were given such low competence scores. Using a set of multiple regression models following the influence of gender, nationality, basic education, scientific field, university affiliation, the evaluation committee to which candidates had been assigned, doctoral experience abroad (including letter of recommendation), and affiliation with one of the committee members they came to the conclusion that two factors influenced the scores significantly. First, there was gender: a female applicant had to be 2.5 times more productive than the average male applicant to receive the same competence score. Secondly, and equally influential, there were the personal ties with one of the committee members. For the women candidates, this might make up for their gender, if that is, the male candidates had no personal connections. A women scientist without personal connections therefore had two hurdles to cross: a lack of affiliation and her gender.

The conclusions of Wennerås and Wold are as unexpected as they are depressing. Articles have ensued, and several universities have tried to analyse and evaluate their own situation with respect to the percentage and position of women scientists. The interim conclusions were presented at the "E/Quality"-conference organised by UNESCO in preparation of the World Science Conference in Bled, in November 1998.

It remains to be seen, however, whether all those reports and articles will fundamentally change the composition of academic staff, including the composition of those bodies which have policy-making power. Perhaps the arrival of a new generation of academics (male and female), who believe gender related issues are fundamental to much of the present research, who are aware of the under-representation of women in academia and of the waste of unused competence; perhaps, this new generation will allow for a change. Now, on the brink of a new millennium, it is still very much a dream.

This articles was published in the brochure entitled „Science and Future: Contribution of Flanders to the World Scientific Conference" (Brussels: Ministry of Flanders, 1999), pp.16-19.

By Prof. Marysa Demoor
University of Gent
44 Rozier, 9000 Gent

Editor: Chair of the Task Force on Under-represented Groups in Surveying
Ms. Gabriele Dasse, Kleinfeld 22a, D-21149 Hamburg, Germany
Fax + 49 40 428 265 265 
Tel. + 49 40 428 265 250
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© Copyright 2000 Gabriele Dasse.
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