Women And Access To Land: The Hindrances
1 March 2021
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By Ashleigh Jinjika|
As we are about to celebrate women’s day on the 8th of March, we may need to look at the key issues to do with gender equality as far as access to land is concerned and the need to call for equal distribution of land and property rights.

Gender differences in land tenure should be recognized if land objectives, such as increasing land productivity, providing affordable housing, or promoting sustainable resource management, are to be met. There is a need for land tenure policy frameworks that explicitly address gender inclusive access to land. Without specific attention to gender inclusiveness, important segments of society may be excluded from the benefits of land administration, management, and development schemes.
Human Rights Defender, Mr Prosper Tiringindi underscored that there are great gender inequities in access to land, housing and basic infrastructure and land rights discrimination is a violation of human rights.
“In many countries, there is still a lack of adequate provisions for women to hold land rights independently of their husbands or male relatives. Statutory law often does not provide for women’s independent rights and when such legislation does exist, mechanisms to enforce it are often absent. In traditional or “customary” societies, women’s direct access to land through purchase or inheritance is often limited, yet they may have greater management and use rights than men. Since women are frequently the major household food producers, there are usually customary provisions for indirect access to land in terms of use rights acquired through kinship relationships and their status as wives, mothers, sisters, or daughters”, he said.
Through labour mobility, divorce, separation, or death, an increasing number of women are becoming the heads of households. They are thus making many of the day-to-day decisions affecting shelter, food production, and household economics. Yet only a small proportion of these women hold secure land rights. Similarly, there are societies where access to land stems from the female line, and in this case male partners and children may be disadvantaged as societies change.
On the other hand, there are increasing numbers of men and children who are homeless. Such gender-related changes in household and community maintenance need to be addressed in housing and economic development projects which target groups, for example, through special credit or rental arrangements.
Migration to urban centres has resulted in a rapid rise in the number of rural families that have women as the heads of households. Many of these women are those with the least social power, and these include; single parents, widows, divorcees, wives of migrant workers and the aged. They are largely without effective decision-making powers, often without a voice in community governance, and increasingly without security as individuals under traditional law. Attempts to assert their rights can cause conflicts at the community or even national levels. Too often, women are left holding whatever rights they have at the will of male relatives. Single, divorced or widowed women can end up dependent on the goodwill of distant family members.
At the same time female-headed households are faced with the responsibility for food production for growing populations. Even in male-headed households, women often have prime responsibility for food production while men commonly concentrate on cash crops.
Making access to land more equitable does not mean addressing only the quantity of rights allocated. To make use of the rights and opportunities, access to land must also be enforceable or secure for example, against seizure by force or by law. Equitable access to land must also be effective, if more effective access to land is to be improved for men and women.
To create gender equity, whether on the basis of human rights or for reasons of economic efficiency, then the principal challenges for land administration are, to understand and acknowledge the complexity of property rights regimes as they relate to the dynamic roles of both men and women in today’s societies; and to provide effective institutional structures that can protect and strengthen equitable access to land within the framework of a society’s particular land policy goals.