Quick Guide to What and How: increasing women's access to land

Published: October 2012

This document presents a guide which gives a brief overview of the challenges regarding women's access to land, outlines what needs to be done to increase women's access to land and provides Sida with some entry points for supporting
processes where women gain access to land.

Key Findings

  • Women are responsible for between 60 and 80 percent of food production in developing countries. Yet they rarely own the land they are working on, have tenure security or control over the land. They often have limited decision making power and control over how to use the land or its outputs.
  • Women and men's de jure access to land is regulated by the formal legal system, and in many developing countries similarly through customary law. There are many examples of how the two systems can both prevent and promote women's access to land. The formal legal systems in many countries have constitutions or land laws that grant gender equality in access to land but where laws for marriage, divorce and inheritance contradict these laws by discriminating against women and daughters.
  • While systems of customary law regarding land tenure in pre-colonial Africa often granted women access to land, this right was lost in many cases with the introduction of the idea of individual ownership.
  • Customary systems today tend not to grant gender equality in access to land.
  • Customary systems of property tenure account for at least 75 percent of the land in most African countries.
  • Women's de facto access to land is restricted by lack of implementation of existing laws, by customary law, traditional and social practices, norms and power structures within communities and households, by lack of legal security systems to protect women against land grabbing, etc.
  • Women's access to land and property is central to women's economic empowerment, as land can serve as a base for food production and income generation, as collateral for credit and as a means of holding savings for the future. Land is also a social asset that is crucial for cultural identity, political power and participation in decision making.
  • Women's equal access to land is a human rights issue.
  • Women's land rights reduce domestic violence; women who own land are more capable of exiting violent relationships and negotiating safe sex.
  • Agricultural production and food security also increase when women are granted tenure security.
  • Women's participation in the process of developing a land policy is fundamental to increasing women's access to land.
  • The effectiveness of laws depends on awareness about them, the abilities to invoke them, and to what extent cultural norms and traditions are practiced and followed instead of formal laws.
  • When a dispute arises, enforcement requires that the disputing parties are familiar with the law. It assumes the parties to have equal access to institutions and actors such as lawyers, legal aids, etc. as well as the ability to make a claim.
  • The technical systems of land administration dealing with land delimitation, titling and registration of land or user rights play an important part in creating equal access to land in different systems of land tenure.

Populations Women

Publishers Swedish International Development Cooperation (Sida)

Funded by Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA)