Ending gender discrimination in land ownership


April 4, 2016

In Zanzibar, an island off the coast of Tanzania, there are no policies expressly guaranteeing women’s rights to land even though the country’s constitution states there is an equal right to property ownership.

Recently, the government and several NGOs have been working with women to help end local discriminatory practices and train them on property and inheritance rights.

But women’s lack of access to land ownership remains commonplace.

According to development economist Cheryl Doss, more men than women own land globally. In the 10 countries she studied in Africa, for instance, 39 percent of women and 48 percent of men reported owning land either individually and or jointly.

However only 12 percent of women reported owning land on their own, compared with 31 percent of men.

A major reason for this global gender disparity is that many laws dictate that women cannot hold land rights independently of their husbands or male relatives.

In Kenya, for instance, 80 percent of farmers are women. However the Marriage and Property Act denies women the right to marital property upon divorce or death of their spouse unless they can prove they made a contribution to the acquisition of the property during their marriage.

Even when laws do allow women to own land, the mechanisms to enforce women’s independent rights are absent.

According to the UN Human Rights Office’s gender and women’s rights advisor Gaynel Curry, “Despite the fact that many women are legally entitled to equality in access to land, they still experience considerable discrimination in this area.”

This lack of access is problematic. Often women are primary household food producers, yet they may not have control over the land they work on when traditional family structures dissolve. Increasingly, women are becoming heads of their households through divorce, separation, death or labour migration of their partners.

In practice, they are decision-makers on a daily basis for household economics, shelter and food production of their families, yet they are not legally recognised as such.This adversely affects their ability to access government and development schemes, financial services, or to generate other income.

It is time for governments to put in place policies and laws that ensure it and then help enforce them.

Ensuring equal access and ownership to land will not only help women and their families, but it can help economies and societies grow. In Tanzania, for example, women with strong property and inheritance rights earned up to 3.8 times more income. In Honduras and Nicaragua, a USAID study found that women with land rights contributed a greater proportion of income to the household than men.

Equal access and ownership also could reduce hunger and improve livelihoods. With the same access as men, women could increase yields on their farms by 20–30 percent and raise total agricultural output by 2.5–4 percent.

We already have examples of countries that are leading efforts to advocate for women’s rights to own land.

Under the leadership of the former agriculture minister, Agnes Kalibata, Rwanda enacted legal changes allowing women to own half of the land owned by their family. Kenya’s new constitution also addresses women’s right to land ownership and has created the necessary legal framework to reinforce it.

But countries can also take smaller steps to address this issue. Such steps include ensuring women are represented in land management and administration committees as well as land dispute resolution committees.

In Ethiopia, for example, land administration committees are required to have at least one female member. In Rwanda, out of the seven members of the National Land Commission, three are women.

Of course, ensuring that women have equal rights to land does not mean that women would not face discrimination in other areas. However, research clearly suggests that women with secure access and ownership of land are less vulnerable to other gender-based violence and exploitation.

If we truly want to see an equitable, secure and sustainable world, we must ensure that women have legal rights to land and to the benefits and opportunities that come with land ownership.

Esther Ngumbi is a post-doctoral researcher at the Department of Entomology and Plant Pathology at Auburn University in Alabama. She serves as a 2016 Clinton Global University (CGI U) Mentor for Agriculture and is a 2015 New Voices Fellow at the Aspen Institute. You can follow her on Twitter @EstherNgumbi.

Elsa Marie D’Silva is the CoFounder & Managing Director of Safecity that crowdmaps sexual harassment in public spaces, and is a 2015 Aspen New Voices Fellow. You can follow her on Twitter @elsamariedsilva.

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Originally published on This is Africa

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