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Women and land: Securing rights for better lives

Women and land

By Debbie Budlender and Eileen Alma
Published by the International Development Research Centre
Website: www.idrc.ca
2011, 110pp, ISBN 978 1 55250 522 9 (Pb), free to download

In developing countries, women tend to be more concentrated in rural areas and more dependent on the land. Therefore, "in many places, unequal rights to land put women at a disadvantage, perpetuate poverty, and entrench gender inequality," the authors state. Using research findings from 14 sub-Saharan countries, Women and land aims to provide detailed information on women's complex relationship with land as a step towards achieving real change. "Unless we look at particular situations faced by particular groups of women in particular locations, it is difficult to craft policies that assist women seeking greater control over their lives," the authors explain.

The relationship between customary and statutory law, the interplay of marital and land laws, national land policies and reform, and promotion and protection of inheritance rights are some of the topics covered. In Kenya, female membership on land control boards has led to a change in the public perception that land matters are exclusively a male domain, while in Rwanda researchers noted that while new laws have enhanced property rights for women in monogamous civil marriages, a large number of women still cohabit or are in a polygamous marriage. And in Cameroon, one controversial suggestion was that women's increasing ability to access land may not represent a move toward gender equality, but instead reflect the decreasing importance attached to agriculture as a form of livelihood.

In addition to highlighting the diversity and complexity of women's experiences the book also highlights a number of lessons for those working to secure women's rights to land. "The importance of providing teaching and training in a variety of disciplines for a young generation of women in Africa cannot be overstated," the book says. Other lessons include: consulting and involving women when designing reforms and monitoring their implementation; using varied approaches to streamline and consolidate numerous land laws to address land injustice; using participation-oriented research methods; and providing necessary resources to implement legislation such as informing and educating relevant actors about the legislation and providing sanctions if implementation fails.

For a variety of resources on women and land rights, including videos, case studies, research reports and books, visit IDRC

Date published: November 2011


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