Women’s ability to own land is not only an economic issue, but also a social issue that has great implications. According to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the lack of women’s land rights encompass several CEDAW violations such as the economic and social rights of women, rural women’s rights, and women’s rights to equality in marriage and in front of the law. Whilst land rights are important for all, the access to land ownership is particularly crucial to sustainable development as over half of the farm labour in the Sub-Saharan Africa is conducted by women, with women producing over 70 per cent of the food production in this region. Even though women are such significant producers, only 15 per cent of women own land in Sub-Saharan Africa. Much of this lack of land ownership has to do with the fact that there are still laws and constitutions in place which discriminate against women.
Women’s inaccessibility to land contributes to further exclusion and poverty, placing them in difficult and at times, dangerous situations within their family structures. Lack of land ownership rights also forces women into economic gender-based violence instances where, even though they are the producers on the land, they have no economic rights to the land. Thus, their partners control the money and can force them to stay in abusive relationships as they do not have the economic means to leave. Research has shown a positive correlation between women owning land and lower incidences of gender-based violence at the household level, along with families being better fed, better educated and more economically developed. By having ownership of land, women are able to increase their bargaining power within the marriage and amongst family members as they are no longer dependent on their husbands or their families. Not only are women earning higher incomes through land ownership, they are also able to access credit which allows them to pursue careers off the farm and rent the land, leading to further income and more financial independence. With more and more women becoming economically independent, the opportunities increase for their families and for the women themselves, as they are able to escape potentially harmful situations resulting from dependence on their partners or families.
Overall, the lack of land rights can lead to various forms of gender-based violence that threaten women’s daily lives. Until government regulations and socio-cultural changes are made to address these insecurities, gender-based violence will continue to persist in these areas. Land ownership must not solely be viewed as giving a women an economic right but rather an overall social change.
Lindsay Sparrow is the Associate Director of the Centre for Gender Rights at LCILP Global. She holds a MSc in Political Economy of Emerging Markets from King’s College London and a BSc in Policy, International Trade, and Development from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Her recent work focuses on gender and social policies, in particular gender-based violence as well as gender and economic policies.