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Do Land Rights Formalization Interventions Work for Women?

Our new evidence brief examines what’s working, what’s not, and where more research is needed

One of the comparatively well-studied areas within the field of women’s land and resource rights focuses on land formalization, or the process of documenting, certifying, and sometimes registering rights to land.

To gain a better understanding of whether land formalization interventions are effective at improving the lives of women, our team conducted a comprehensive review of rigorously collected evidence, distilling findings across studies to make them usable for practitioners, policy-makers, and researchers.

Led by Hirut Girma, our team analyzed papers from around the world to begin defining what land formalization is and how it’s managed in various regions. As women are not a homogenous group worldwide, we took an intersectional approach in assessing the data related to women of different ethnicities, socioeconomic statuses, marital arrangements, and more.

We found that there is clearly a need for more evidence on the effectiveness of land formalization for making a difference in women’s lives. The empirical link has not been well established for a range of development outcomes expected to flow from women’s formal documented land rights. This may reflect the comparatively little attention paid to women’s land rights in research, and the need for further research to unpack the potential causal link between women’s documented land rights and development outcomes. Some of the expected outcomes may also require more time and other complementary policies to materialize.

An interesting example of the disconnect between legal rights and the administrative processes that support formalization of those rights can be found in a simple clerical oversight. It might be legally required for marital property to be registered in the names of both spouses, but the application form for registration may only have a single line for a name to be entered. As it’s common for men to engage in more public-facing roles within the family, they are the ones who are registering the land and, therefore, only their name is listed in the registry as the owner. Once rights are registered, the registry entry becomes the strongest evidence of ownership, and this then puts women at a significant disadvantage when she is widowed or divorced, or if she wants to independently exercise her legal rights in some way; so a seemingly minor clerical matter can have a deeply adverse effect on women’s autonomy.

Download and read our report to find out more about what the available data tells us regarding women and land formalization, our recommendations for further study, and possible interventions that have seen some success in improving the lives of women.

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