Securing Women's Land Rights: Learning From Successful Experiences in Rwanda and Burundi

Published: May 2014

This document presents securng womens land rights and learning from successful experiences in Rwanda and Burundi. One of the best ways to learn is to experience: this allows people to see, touch, and "taste" new approaches, knowledge, and methodologies, which can then be shared and applied elsewhere. This is what a "Learning Route" aims to do, and this was the aim of the "Innovative Tools and Approaches to Secure Women's Land Rights" Learning Route, which took place in Rwanda and Burundi on 4-11 February 2014. The intention was to learn from the experiences of diverse organisations working to promote women's land rights. Those participating in the Learning Route, the ruteros, were 16 women and men working for civil society organisations (CSOs) and government programmes in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, ranging in age from those in their 20s just starting out to those in their 50s with decades of experience. Together, they visited three CaseStudy projects, one in Rwanda and two in Burundi, to learn about tools and approaches used to secure women's land rights and to question the implementing organisations, local leaders, and women and men from local communities to better understand how these worked in practice.

Key Findings

  • Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) can be influential at both local and national levels, in the implementation of projects in local communities and the development of national policies. The external assistance of international organisations can be of help, but the local knowledge and expertise of CSOs is crucial if positive results are to be achieved.
  • Lobbying and advocacy are tools that can have a successful impact on national policies and reform of laws.
  • Gender issues, human rights, and land management are interconnected topics, a connection that is increasingly being acknowledged at both national and local levels.
  • Although customary norms can often lead to discrimination against women, they can also be positively integrated into projects, as was the case of the bashingantahe being recruited as paralegals by PTRPC.
  • The active involvement of women in community life and in dispute resolution processes (through women's solidarity groups and as paralegals and agents of change) is a positive result of focused projects but is also a tool in itself that can create a virtuous circle of women's empowerment.
  • Legal awareness within communities is just as crucial as legal reforms at the national level; both call for targeted studies and activities.
  • Inheritance and succession laws are key issues to be addressed in the area of women's land rights.
  • Customary unregistered marriages, de facto marriages, and polygamous unions are not recognized by law. As a consequence, even in countries were women have inheritance rights over their husbands' property (as in Rwanda), many women remain unable to enforce those rights. There is thus a need to improve laws to protect all women and to respond to the social context.
  • Land registration may be a good tool to protect women's land rights but some aspects concerning women, such as the impact registration in a woman's name can have on social relations within the family if this is not a culturally accepted practice deserve further clarification and precision, both in legal theory and in practice.
  • Certain cultural and social norms make it difficult for women to claim and defend their rights. For this reason, it is crucial that women are actively involved in projects and programmes that defend their land rights.

Populations Women

Publishers The International Land Coalition (ILC), Women's Refugee Commission (formerly Women's Commission for Refugee Women and Children)

Geographic Focus Africa (Central) / Rwanda, Africa (Eastern) / Burundi