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What is the importance of women’s socioeconomic empowerment through land rights in Africa and how can we achieve that?
Research indicates that when women are empowered through having secure rights to land, their agricultural productivity improves; they are more included in household decision-making, which has a positive impact on their families; and their income may improve. Here are some examples from Africa and beyond.
Agricultural yields and investment:
- In Rwanda, land titling boosted land investment among male-headed households by 10% and for female-headed households by nearly twice as much (Ali, et al., 2014).
- Women’s concern over loss of land reduces their investments in land even when their husbands are alive. In Zambia, secure inheritance rights for widows are associated with higher land investment by married couples, including fertilizer application, fallowing, and use of labor-intensive tillage practices meant to reduce erosion and run-off. Investment is highest when the widow inherits, lower when someone in her family inherits, and lowest when the land reverts to the chief or another family member (Dillon & Voena, 2017).
Female farmers are largely excluded from modern contract-farming arrangements because they lack secure control over land, labor, and other resources required to guarantee a reliable flow of produce (FAO-SOFA Team & Doss, 2011; Croppenstadt, Goldstein, & Rosas, 2013).
Secure land rights are important for the well-being of families, whether a woman is head of her household or lives in a household headed by a man (Smith, Ramakrishnan, Ndiaye, & Martorell, 2003). Households where women have rights to land are likely to spend a larger portion of household income on food (Menon, ven der Meulen Rodgers, & Nguyen, 2014); an increase in female landholdings is associated with increases in household food expenditure and levels of child education (Katz & Chamorro, 2002); and children of mothers who own land are less likely to be severely underweight because women have control over household decisions (Allendorf, 2007).
- In Tanzania, women who reported having strong property and inheritance rights were more likely to be employed outside of the home, more likely to be self-employed, and more likely to have higher gross earnings. Moreover, women in communities with stronger property and inheritance rights for women have greater individual savings (Peterman, 2011). A study in Ethiopia also found that when the larger community of women has land rights, individual women’s rights are improved (Holden & Bezu, 2014).
- In Ethiopia, in the event of a no-fault divorce, women who brought in some land to the marriage expect to receive more land and livestock in the event of a divorce than those who did not bring land into the marriage, and women who individually own more livestock and hold user rights on a larger share of the household’s land expect to receive more land and livestock in the event of divorce than those with no livestock or a smaller share of household land. In addition, women who bring more assets into the household, either at the time of marriage or through inheritance, have more say in farming decisions (Fafchamps & Quisumbing, 2002).
Labor and Income:
- In Rwanda, a study by Ali (2017) shows higher incomes for both men and women, a drop in farm labor, and women’s shift toward self- and wage-employment.
How do we achieve that?
This is a big question with many moving parts. The critical things are to: (1) understand the context, including the law, customs of different groups, the land tenure systems, the political situation, and what women want to focus on—what are the biggest constraints women face (for example, widows lose rights to their land); and (2) understand which land rights you want to secure or improve—the right to use, the right to benefit from, the right to manage/make decisions—and what would make them more secure (longer term, more enforcable, not changed by marital status, etc.).
Ali, D. A., Deininger, K., & Goldstein, M. (2014). Environmental and gender impacts of land tenure regularization in Africa: pilot evidence from Rwanda. Journal of Development Economics, 110, 262-275.
Croppenstadt, A., Goldstein, M. , & Rosas, N. (2013). Gender and Agriculture, Inefficiencies, Segregation, and Low Productivity Traps. Washington, D.C.: World Bank, Development Economics Vice Presidency, Partnerships, Capacity Building Unit.
Holden, S., & Bezu, S. (2014). Joint Land Certification, Gendered Preferences, and Land-related Decisions: Are Wives Getting More Involved?”. As, Norway: Centre for Land Tenure Studies/School of Economics and Business Norwegian University of Life Sciences.