Access to Land and Securing Property Rights

Project Description


Access to land still presents a challenge for women in Africa. For instance, according to a report presented at a World Bank conference in 2016, more than 70% of plots of land are owned in Nigeria by a single man, while only 8% are owned by a single woman. Even in countries where men and women own an equal percentage of land deeds, the plot area for arable land substantially favours men. This ensures that women who are farming for either sustenance or income are disadvantaged. Improving women’s access to arable farming land and securing land title deeds for women is thus a crucial policy intervention.

Property rights are a crucial institution within any economy on which lays the foundation for a flourishing economy. Securing the land rights of women is vital for the success of many females in Africa, and can improve the livelihoods of millions of poor, rural households. Major social, political, and institutional challenges prevent the rural poor from gaining secure tenure rights. Such challenges are more pronounced for women due to the widespread patriarchal control of resources, particularly land, and unequal distribution of roles and responsibilities. Improving women’s land rights is well-recognized in the international and African development agendas as an important pathway for achieving gender equality and poverty reduction. For example, The African Union’s Agenda 2063 calls for a prosperous Africa, based on inclusive growth and sustainable development (aspiration 1); as well as an Africa whose development is people-driven, and which relies on the potential offered by African people, especially its women and youth (aspiration 6).

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted in 2015, likewise, recognize that to end poverty (Goal 1), it will be necessary to ensure equal rights in ownership and control over land, as well as equal rights to the inheritance of productive resources (target 1.4). The SDGs also imply that to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls (Goal 5), policies and legal reforms are needed to give women equal rights and access to ownership and control over land and other economic resources (target 5a).  

The Good Practice approach: Success Stories

The following two NSF-funded projects outline the success that was achieved through projects supporting access to land and securing property rights for women in Africa.

CLEAR (The Centre for Land, Economy and Rights of Women): Addressing Women’s Livelihoods and Their Land Rights through Gender Equality

The objective of the Centre for Land, Economy and Rights of Women (CLEAR) was to set up a centre of excellence addressing social and economic justice, as well as working with landless people and supporting marginalised farmers, the majority of whom were women. The aim was to improve female livelihoods through secure and equitable access, utilisation and benefits from land-based resources. Their operations were based in Kenya and Uganda.

Operationally, CLEAR’s work was anchored on influencing policy, research, advocacy and networking, and capacity building on women’s land rights. The main project objectives were to link up with similar initiatives in the region and to build an enabling environment for the formulation and implementation of gender sensitive land policies, laws and structures, deemed necessary for the eradication of poverty and the promotion of sustainable livelihoods for women in Africa. More specifically, the project focused on women gaining land rights, transforming land use by women, and strengthening the economic power of rural women.

They found during the project that while women were increasingly using the legal system to exercise their land rights, lack of awareness of the existence of these rights remained an obstacle. The organisation, therefore, created campaigns aimed at motivating women to assert their rights and attain equality regardless of their level of education and socio-economic status.

The organisation participated in various gender forums addressing the proposed national land policy of Kenya. This included the one held in October 2008 which was organised by the Heinrich Böll Foundation and which resulted in the eventual launch of the Land Sector Non-State Actors (LSNSA) on 26 June 2009. This network of civil society organizations and professional bodies participated in land reforms in Kenya and lobbied for the enactment of the National Land Policy to guide the country towards a sustainable and equitable use of land. The launch coincided with the Cabinet’s approval of the Policy, marking the penultimate stage of the six-year process. This was followed by a Parliamentary debate before enforcement and implementation. Furthermore, CLEAR has continuously advocated for gender policy reform while Parliament discussed Kenya’s draft Gender Policy, to ensure that critical elements of the policy are not omitted. CLEAR has also finalised the formulation of the Gender Policy for Liberia. It provided a good platform to reiterate some of the key gender policy issues that women continually deal with, as well as to enlighten and guide the parties involved on gender policy development, proposing some of the ways critical gender concerns can be incorporated into policy.

The following moving story of Rosemary indicates the plight of many women in Kenya:

Rosemary narrates that her husband was mentally impaired. He used to beat her and the children. He would even throw stones at them. “But the worst thing he did was to sell all the land before he died,” says Rosemary. “After all this, I decided to come back to my father’s home with all my children”, she continues.

Rosemary now lives in a small grass-thatched house.  She says, “When it rains at night we stand in the corner. The house leaks. We cannot sleep. We lack beddings. Life is very tough.” Worse still, three of her daughters are mentally ill. “I have gone to many traditional healers but there is no improvement.”

Rosemary grows beans and maize for food. She either rents land or requests good Samaritans who give her small pieces for use. This season she harvested 20 kilograms of beans. She got only 10 kilograms of maize. After a short while, the food was finished. “I do Lejaleja (sell labour) to get money for food. I get 1000 shillings per day. This is very little”. Rosemary’s family usually has no breakfast. For lunch and supper, they eat boiled beans. When they are lucky, they eat posho (cooked maize meal). Many times, they have slept without a meal. This family rarely eats meat. According to Rosemary, “meat is for the rich. We only eat meat on Christmas day”.

In order to survive, she sells banana leaves; she gets about 2000 shillings a day. As earlier noted Rosemary does manual labour digging. However, she says “the work done is not equivalent to the pay. Digging is very hard work.

Rosemary is not aware of any government programs like National Agricultural Advisory Services (NAADS) which assists farmers to increase food production.

Finally, Rosemary makes this appeal to the leaders. The President should support women without land to buy their own land in order to feed themselves and their children.

Likewise, in Uganda Margret stated, “Please enforce the law so that a man does not sell land before consulting his wife. When men sell land, it is the women and children who suffer” and Juliet pleads, “The leaders of this nation should make sure that the law is implemented so that when a man dies, his wife and children are left on their land.”

This project clearly contributed to Aspiration 1 of the AU’s Agenda 2063 for a prosperous Africa based on inclusive growth and sustainable development and Aspiration 6, an Africa where development is people-driven, unleashing the potential of its women and youth.

ENDA PRONAT (Association pour l'Environnement et Developpement Action pour une Protection Naturelle des Terroirs): Improving and Securing Access to Land for Rural Women in Senegal

The ENDA PRONAT project aimed to secure access to land for women living in rural areas of Senegal, where land management and ownership are traditionally viewed as a male preserve. It further also worked towards improving the economic and technical knowledge of women. This stems from informal institutional structures as well as socio-cultural factors. This project further endeavoured to encourage a sustainable system of agriculture and to strengthen the demand by women for reform of customary land management practices, thereby promoting female participation in land reforms and influencing national agricultural policies.

The project used a variety of techniques to raise awareness and promote advocacy, including workshops, road shows, and broadcasting. Training was also provided through workshops on land management, agricultural production techniques and legal issues associated with registration, leadership in organisations. Meetings on gender issues in land management were also provided. Some 4,000 people were reached through these means. Machinery for mechanical cultivation and irrigation was purchased, as well as some ICT equipment for workshop presentations. As a result of an increasing involvement in land management and cultivation, income from sales of agricultural products increased from between 14% and 32%, depending on locality.

A significant outcome of the project is that the place of women in Sénégalese society has evolved considerably. Several factors have contributed to this development at the local level, including the increasing openness of communal councils in respecting requests for land from women. Many village leaders support women's groups and grant them plots of land and Imams conduct awareness-raising sessions, through their sermons, on women's share of land ownership.

One of the key lessons learned by the project was that security of tenure of land is still a matter of concern in rural areas, with legal implications. Also, of concern was the value placed on land by communities and the need to ensure that it is both preserved and maintained for the future, rather than being monopolised by the most powerful members of the community.

The evolution of women's rights, including land tenure, is now well understood by men and women in Senegal and communities have been sensitised to the issues surrounding women's access to land. Women are more confident in the realisation that they have access to land and they have an increased interest in using it productively: some started taking the plunge by filing applications for crop and housing plots. Through this work, there has been a strengthening of the capacities of the local populations and their elected representatives and a better understanding and consultation of stakeholders on land issues.

Through ENDA PRONAT’s efforts, women are better able to view themselves as active and rightful participants in agriculture, the economy and governance structures. These effects will have long-lasting impacts, with women being more capable of fighting for their rights in other spheres.

In this way, the project addressed Aspiration 1 of the AU’s Agenda 2063 for a prosperous Africa based on inclusive growth and sustainable development and Aspiration 6, an Africa where development is people-driven, unleashing the potential of its women and youth.

Key Lessons Learned from Land Access Sector Projects

Increase efforts to secure land rights for African women

Land ownership is still dictated by entrenched patriarchal norms in many African countries and few women are fully informed about their rights regarding access to land. Projects in the Republic of Kenya, the Republic of Uganda and the Republic of Senegal aimed to secure greater access to land for women living in rural areas and to strengthen their demand for reform of customary land management. Many of the women’s organisations that benefitted from funding provided by the NSF found that engaging with national governments and community leaders on the topic of women’s land and inheritance rights helped to precipitate changes to national land policies, laws and structures. The inclusion of national governments and community leaders further ensures that the land rights of women are maintained over their lifetimes, without the threat of future retaliation from communities.

Legal accreditation is vital for cooperative success and to secure land rights for female members of cooperatives

Securing legal accreditation is vital for cooperative success and to secure land rights for female members of the cooperative. The CLEAR (The Centre for Land, Economy and Rights of Women) project in Uganda and Kenya notes that access to and control of land and other natural resources is crucial for the livelihood needs of rural poor households. However, major social, political, and institutional challenges prevent the rural poor from gaining secure tenure rights. Such challenges are more pronounced for women due to the widespread patriarchal control of resources, particularly land, and unequal distribution of roles and responsibilities.

The Women of Liberia Peace Network (WOLPNET) helped 45 vulnerable and 65 war-affected female residents from the Maimu Salala district of Liberia to form an agricultural cooperative, thereby increasing their earning capacity. The success of the project is largely attributed to the fact that the beneficiaries and project coordinators worked in unison with the Cooperative Development Agency of Liberia (CDA) to ensure that the Maimu Women Agriculture Cooperative met all the requirements for government accreditation. In Angola, the project initiated by SOS CEDIA aimed to facilitate the economic empowerment of rural women from the Zaire province.  They focused on creating an enabling environment for women to carry out agricultural activities by organising the 103 beneficiaries into a legally recognised agricultural cooperative, namely the KUZI Agricultural and Livestock Production Cooperative. Such interventions ensure that women are not penalized for existing inequalities in education and literacy and enable women to form successful income-generating endeavours and secure land title deeds over 95 ha of land offered by the Provincial Government of MBanza Congo. The Great Lakes Region, the Provincial Government of South Kiwu offered 07 ha of land for the construction of the Cross-border market.