There were three separate projects involved in Rwanda’s titling and registration: (1) a pilot project in 2008 that was carried out in four Cells selected from different Districts identified from four regions of Rwanda: (Musanze District, Karongi District, Gasabo District, and Kirehe District) and funded by DFID; (2) the roll out of the National Land Tenure Regularization Project (LTR), also funded by DFID; and (3) the Land Dispute Management Program (LDMP), which operated in conjunction with the pilot project and was carried out by an international NGO, Rural Development Institute (now Landesa), and RISD, a local NGO and funded by USAID. The Government of Rwanda (GOR) was a partner in all three projects.
The Land Tenure Regularization (LTR) program in Rwanda was rolled out in 2009.1 Titles were issued through a low-cost community-based process, securing land assets and facilitating investment to 90 percent of predominantly poor households that own some farming land.
The basic steps included: an area was declared subject to adjudication and stakeholder sensitization programs were conducted; locally trained para-surveyors conducted land demarcation in the field to identify parcel boundaries in the presence of land owners and all adjoining neighbors; the parcels were marked on an aerial photo to create a graphical record; and, for undisputed parcels, a claim receipt was issued and signed by all adjoining neighbors.
Information from this receipt, in particular the names of all persons, including women and minors, with a claim or interest on the property, was then transferred to a registry book, digitized, and displayed publicly. If no objections were raised within a period of public display of at least 2 weeks, the information was formally registered, creating the precondition for award of a formal certificate upon payment of a nominal fee.
Non-governmental, governmental, and international actors implemented education and training programs aimed at dispute resolution actors and advocates as well as beneficiaries of the reforms, with a focus on women. Local dispute resolution processes were supported by the Land Dispute Management Project (LDMP), developed and managed by USAID in partnership with the government of Rwanda. Field trainings were conducted to educate dispute resolution actors, including the abunzi (traditional, local dispute resolution bodies), land committees, and land adjudication committees, as well as advocates for women, such as the National Women’s Council, about the new laws.
Awareness activities aimed at the general population were carried out by a variety of groups. As an example, Haguruka, a Rwandan NGO, has been educating the general population on women’s rights, especially their rights to property and inheritance. Since 1995, these efforts have been supported by the UN Refugee Agency. Haguruka’s campaign included using posters and legal education booklets to educate the population about women’s new rights. In addition, the organization provides legal aid to women attempting to secure their rights, and trains paralegals to give basic advice to women regarding dispute settlement. These activities are directed towards local authorities and women’s organizations, but some services are also directly provided to women. LDMP also conducted education and awareness campaigns in the pilot areas. To ensure that the message being perceived was the same as the message intended to be delivered, LDMP assembled focus groups including single and married adult males, single and married adult women, women legally married in polygamous relationships, widows, and orphans. Awareness activities appear to have been sustained and widespread, although knowledge of the new rights varied with respect to the specific area of rights and from region to region.
One critical error was made, however, in the understanding of the marital property law during the pilot. While only civil, registered marriages are considered valid, and only then do the automatic protections for property ownership come into play, women within customary or other non-formal marriages still have a right to co-ownership of marital property, specifically of property both contributed to. This misunderstanding of the law lead to a statistically significant reduction of the probability of having documented land ownership for women who were not civilly married. If the correct legal interpretation had been clear to both implementers and land holders, many more women would have had their rights to land documented. The Organic Land Law calls for equal rights to property for men and women.2
The most important lesson learned from the Rwandan case study is this: even in countries where customary law is the most powerful law in many communities, the formal law matters, and understanding it completely and then informing land holders of their rights is critical to women’s land rights. Each country may define marital property differently. Even community property may only include property purchased by a husband and wife (or cohabitates) and not property inherited or gifted either before or after the marriage. If marriage does not provide protection by law, the law may still provide protection for property acquired by two people together—co-ownership of property is allowed in virtually every country, and if property is purchased by two people or given to two people, that property is co-owned by law, whether they are married or not.
Gillingham, P. and Buckle, F., "Rwanda Land Tenure Regularisation Case Study", Evidence on Demand (March 2014).
Organic Law No. 08/2005 Determining the Use and Management of Land in Rwanda, 14/07/2005, Art. 4 para. 2