Local solutions to strengthen women’s voices in land governance

With increasing pressure on land in sub-Saharan Africa, including from commercial agriculture and mineral and oil extraction, how can the voices of women be included in local decisions over land?

Article, 13 May 2019
A woman harvests palm fruit in Tanzania

Tanzania has a progressive legal framework - but in practice, women continue to mainly get access to land through a male relative (Photo: Rasheedhrasheed, Creative Commons via Wikimedia)

The question of how to strengthen women’s voices in decisions relating to land allocation and management was central to a recent IIED webinar in which partner organisations from Tanzania, Senegal and Ghana shared their experiences.

While natural resources investments can potentially provide local benefits, they often result in communities losing their land. Vulnerable groups and women tend to be more negatively affected. They can be excluded from decisions that determine land allocation. And with weaker tenure security, the land that provides their main source of livelihood is more easily taken away.

Mary Richard, head of programs, Tanzania Women Lawyers Association (TAWLA); Fati Alhassan of the Grassroot Sisterhood Foundation, Ghana; Mamadou Fall, director, IED Afrique in Senegal; and Philippine Sutz of IIED all gave presentations, outlining the situations they have faced and the solutions they have worked out with local communities.

Each of the individual PowerPoint and video presentations can be viewed using Google Slides from the links below:

Follow the webinar with this collection of the presentations and videos using Google Slides  

In response to the fact that in sub-Saharan Africa many women have fragile access and control over land, the approaches developed by these organisations have contributed  to increasing women’s participation in land decision-making processes through locally-driven, tailored solutions.

The success of the solutions developed in all three countries relies on two main elements: the fact that they built on existing local governance systems – making it easier to replicate the solutions elsewhere – and strong community buy-in.

In all three countries, land-allocation processes remain dominated by men, even though laws and policies promoting gender equality and women’s land rights have been adopted. For this reason, a good starting point for the process has been to make sure that women are active members alongside men on land governing bodies.

But solutions also need to challenge gender relationships and roles at community level, and support women to become agents of change, able to voice their opinion and needs. Getting the right process to ensure local buy-in has been critical to making progress.

The solutions developed have ultimately benefited all community members – not just women – as they have not only enabled women to play a greater role in decision making processes on land but also strengthened and clarified land governance processes more widely.

As communities are not all the same, it has also been vital to respond to the situation at hand, suggesting ways to facilitate a positive result that would work for both men and women in that village or community, even if it might not be the solution in another place.

Finally, as IIED's Philippine Sutz presented the overall lessons from the project over the last two and a half years, she emphasised the importance of strengthening women’s voices ahead of national initiatives aimed at clarifying and certifying land rights in a specific area.

Only with a good understanding of how land is governed and stronger voices in the relevant forums, will women be able to ask for clarification on their rights, reducing the possibility of land being certified in men’s names only.

Watch a video showing Philippine Sutz's concluding comments from the webinar  

This webinar was instigated by IIED's internal Gender Equality Champions Network and draws on work with our partners to strengthen women’s voices in land governance.