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Protecting women’s rights

August 12, 2016
A woman carrying wood in Ndian, Cameroon
Lotsmart Fonjong / University of BUEA

The issue

Despite the role they play in food security and livelihoods, African women have traditionally not had equal access to land or legal protections. This inferior access is now being further eroded by opaque governance processes related to LSLAs and their exclusion from decision-making.

What research is finding

In Cameroon, Ghana, and Uganda, researchers are looking specifically at how women are affected by LSLAs, what can be done to empower them in related decision-making, and cases in which women have exerted strong leadership on land issues. In Cameroon, where most large land deals take place on national lands, women are largely unrepresented in the process. As a result, they receive inadequate compensation and they are losing access to water, fuel, and other resources needed to support their families.  As displaced men migrate, women also become solely responsible for households, with added stress and workloads. In a Ugandan study site, where women had guaranteed access and land use rights under a traditional clan system, an overall loss of collective rights has spurred land sales which now threaten both women’s rights and community livelihoods. In Ghana, women are bearing the brunt of injustices associated with land transactions under study. Valuation and compensation is generally poor and limited to men, and women are left out of decision-making. Neither family heads nor chiefs willingly shared land transaction details and tended to exclusively consult with an all-male council of elders.

Research in Liberia, Mozambique, and Uganda found significant gender differences. In Mozambique, customary law allows women access to land, but does not secure it should they become widowed or divorced. The research is further exploring how community land rights compare with individual land titles in protecting security of tenure for women. In Liberia, research found significant differences in participation in land governance, with 58% of men reporting they were aware of meetings, compared to only 34% of women. In communities where meetings were held, women reported less participation.

The response

Education and expanded advocacy on behalf of women’s tenure and empowerment may play a significant role. In Liberia, research found high levels of knowledge of women’s inheritance rights, likely due to an extensive public education campaign. Research from Ghana, Cameroon, and Uganda noted that while NGOs are working to build women’s capacity, overall the response has been slow. Work is needed in all jurisdictions to reconcile the gap between theory and practice in protecting the land rights of women, families, and rural people.

This is one of five cross-cutting issues that have emerged from early research findings on large-scale land acquisitions in Africa. Read more about how researchers are working with communities to increase their ability to protect their rights.