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Fiona Noonan spent summer of 2016 working for Landesa (as part of the DC/National Fellowships program). Here is what she had to say about her experience:


When you think about human rights, a few basics probably come to mind, such as water, food, shelter, and—in a perfect world—safety. You may not, however, immediately jump to the right that holds all of these together: the right to land.


Land rights are often assumed, not explicitly ensured, and this lack of security leads to social stratification, gender inequity, and cycles of poverty in much of the developing—and sometimes even the developed—world. Landesa, a Seattle-based nonprofit, is changing this paradigm by helping governments and communities enact laws and modify cultural norms to achieve land tenure security in countries like China, India, Kenya, and Myanmar. In particular, this work focuses on land rights for women, who are often the most vulnerable and disenfranchised demographic when it comes to land.


My SIG Fellowship at the Landesa Center for Women’s Land Rights this summer gave me access to this shifting paradigm, and radically altered my understanding of the importance of human interactions with and dependence upon land. As an intern with an Earth Systems background, I worked on the intersection of women’s land rights and climate change, two problems with significantly overlapping solutions. I examined how nations in the Global South discuss—or don’t discuss—land rights in the context of international climate change policy, and I identified ways for Landesa to enter the field of climate change solutions while maintaining its focus on land tenure security.


It was gratifying to help broaden the scope of Landesa’s work, and empowering to do so in the company of so many other brilliant women and men effecting meaningful and carefully executed change.


I see land rights everywhere now—from water access during droughts, to the origins of my food, to sources of international conflict. Landesa ingrained women’s land rights into my worldview, and I’m excited to use that perspective to continue studying Earth and the people who inhabit it.

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