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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.
We work on systematic land titling projects around the world. Unfortunately, in many cases, the legal framework does not require joint titling for spouses. This is compounded by cultural norms that define men as landowners and decision-makers. In Zambia, for example, several women told enumerators that their husbands alone would determine whose name should be on the title. In situations where joint titling is supported by law, but culturally unknown or even prohibited, what are some effective, practical approaches for promoting joint titling to ensure that women also benefit from such programs?
From your question, I am not sure how much control you have over the design of the systematic land titling program, but for the purpose of this answer, I will assume that you have a reasonable level of influence over the design.
If possible, from the beginning it is helpful to involve local organizations or local government personnel who have regular positive contact with women in the community to understand the specific context of the area where systematic registration will take place. This can be as simple as a meeting with local women’s organizations or women leaders to discuss the project, provide information about the process and the law as it relates to women, and then to solicit their input and assistance on how best to ensure women know they have a right to be registered as joint or co-owners and how to implement that right. Identifying and involving women’s organizations will help throughout the project. Local organizations can influence men within households, create pressure to jointly register property, as well as oversee that women are included.
Another critical step will be to ensure that all the documents involved in systematic registration have room for at least two names. If there is only one signature line, only the head of household, usually a man, will sign.
Educating and training project personnel, stakeholders, and beneficiaries about the law and about the value and importance of women’s names being included on the documents is also critical. Beneficiaries, both men and women, will need to understand the process for registering, including, what is required for registration (are there identification documents required, for example) and how much it will cost. Registration personnel can be required to explain the law and to have all adults, who use the land in any capacity, present at the time of demarcation of the land
There are positive examples of incentives being offered for jointly registering property. For example, the cost for the registration can be lower for joint registration than individual registration. The stamp duty might be waived for joint registration, or other financial incentives can be provided.
Finally, if possible, having women as well as men hired as personnel on the project can encourage women to be more engaged. Being gender inclusive in hiring registrars, surveyors, and community educators is likely to lead to more women being named on documents.
Module 4 of the FAO technical guide: Governing Land for Women and Men provides a good checklist of practical steps that can be taken.