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HIV/AIDS and Land Grabbing – Answer Authored by David Bledsoe- Resource Equity

Generally, we know that widows can be targets for land grabbing when their spouses have died, particularly under customary land tenure regimes that preclude women from inheriting land (with the land passing to or grabbed by males within the deceased husband’s lineage) (See Giovarelli & Scalise, 2020. https://resourceequity.org/record/3175-evidence-brief-do-inheritance-reforms-work-for-women/ ). So, to the extent that HIV/AIDS or other disease triggers increase husband mortality, the risk of land grabbing from widows increases.

Despite this risk, some point to other customary practices or to formal legal mechanisms that provide for some protections via a small inheritance for women of a family house or small parcel of land (See Ghana Intestate Succession Law for a formal example). Others suggest that HIV/AIDS has undermined these customary and formal protections (Food and Agriculture Organisation, 2008). They suggest a related increase in land grabbing by relatives of the deceased male spouse (Mendenhall et al., 2007), and that the targeted women can have difficulties in obtaining legal protection even when it is supposedly available (Izumi, 2006).

To the extent that Covid-19 increases husband mortality, it would likely increase the opportunities for land grabbing from widows. We have also seen recent literature on “Covid-19 Backsliding,” that suggests that governments are increasingly stepping away from positive enforcement of laws and regulations in such areas as the environment, labor, private sector compliance, and social safeguards (such as providing recourse to widows that have illegally lost land) (See https://resourceequity.org/preserving-best-practice-in-the-age-of-covid19/ ).

There is limited research focused specifically on changing social norms and land rights, including inheritance. Broadly speaking, any intervention that empowers women can create social change for the women or for their households or communities, including things like women gaining knowledge of their rights or being supported in going to dispute resolution bodies. Social norm change, in the larger cultural context, requires involving the community, men and boys, women and girls, community leaders, elders—the people who create and abide by the cultural context.

Although legal change does not, in itself, create social change, a progressive legal framework can create a space for social norm change where none existed before. Studies from India indicated that the legal reforms that enabled daughters and sons to inherit equally, increased women’s likelihood of inheriting land, although they did not close the bias gap.[1] As well, legal quotas on women’s participation in the political process or on governing bodies related to land and other natural resources create a starting place for women’s engagement, even though that engagement goes against social norms.[2] Under any progressive legal framework, local capacity to implement or to accommodate implementation by others is also necessary for social change to become real and sustainable.

A report looking at women’s agency and social norms found that evidence suggests that public actions are needed on two broad fronts: first, to enhance women’s and girls’ own sense of capacity and their aspirations to depart from existing limiting gender norms and their associated behaviors (Perova and Vakis 2013), and second, to change behaviors of women and men, boys and girls so that social norms become gender equal. Politics and collective action are important on both fronts.[3]

Behavior change communication with men and boys as well as households and communities has been shown to be effective, especially in the areas of intimate partner violence and women’s health. Involving community leaders and including communities in conversations about social change also shows promise. For example, in Senegal, community-based awareness campaigns enlisted the support of religious leaders to successfully reduce the accepted practice of female genital cutting. In Afghanistan and Ethiopia, community awareness projects have successfully reduced the incidence of early marriage (Mackie 2000; Malhotra et al. 2011).[4]

The report also suggests using broadcast media and provides examples of success, such as:

  • In South Africa, exposure to a television series focused on domestic violence was linked to an increase in help-seeking and support-giving behaviors.
  • In India, the arrival of cable television was associated with significant increases in women’s reported autonomy, decreases in the reported acceptability of wife beating, and decreases in reported son preference. Female school enrollment also increased, along with increased birth spacing. The impacts were stronger where women held more traditional attitudes—in places where women had formerly held high preferences for sons, the share preferring sons fell 20 percentage points with the arrival of cable television, compared with a 12 percent decline overall (Jensen and Oster 2009).
  • In post-genocide Rwanda, radio programming designed to challenge social norms of deference to authority had substantial impacts in terms of increasing willingness to express dissent and reducing the likelihood of listeners deferring to local officials when solving local problems (Paluk and Green 2009).

[1] Deininger, K., Goyal, A., & Nagarajan, H. (2013). Women’s inheritance rights and the intergenerational transmission of resources in India. The Journal of Human Resources, 48(1): 114-141.

[2] Cook, N. J., Grillos, T., Andersson, K. P., (2019) Gender Quotas Increase the Equality and Effectivness of Climage Policy Interventions, Nature Climate Change 9, 330-334; Beaman, L., Chattopadhyay, R., Duflo, E., Pande, R., and Topalova, P. (2009). ‘Powerful Women: Does Exposure Reduce Bias’, The Quarterly Journal of Economics, vol. 124, no. 4, pp. 1497-1540

[3]Klugman, Jeni; Hanmer, Lucia; Twigg, Sarah; Hasan, Tazeen; McCleary-Sills, Jennifer; Santamaria, Julieth. 2014. Voice and Agency : Empowering Women and Girls for Shared Prosperity. Washington, DC: World Bank Group

[4] Klugman, Jeni; Hanmer, Lucia; Twigg, Sarah; Hasan, Tazeen; McCleary-Sills, Jennifer; Santamaria, Julieth. 2014. Voice and Agency : Empowering Women and Girls for Shared Prosperity. Washington, DC: World Bank Group.

This is not an easy question. What works often depends on the context, and social norm change can take a long time. But there are some things we know:

  • The formal law can give the space for social norm change. If the law requires a norm change (daughters inheriting or quotas for local governance) change does begin to occur.[1]
  • When people in government/leadership do not see women’s rights specifically as a goal or see women’s exclusion as a problem that needs to be addressed, overall, gender awareness – or, specifically, awareness that women may have specific needs and expectations from reforms or require specific attention – among the government officials/local leaders can make a difference.[2]
  • Women’s participation in groups, such as self-help groups can change social norms and traditions, particularly those around women’s participation in agriculture[3]
  • Where social norms are deeply entrenched, it is critical to design interventions that include community leaders and those with the power to endorse change (most often men). Successful programs to reduce gender-based violence have enlisted community leaders and have sought endorsement from the broader community).[4]
  • Including women and youth in governance reduces the negative effects of male-only leadership (“similarities between the leadership and the general population in terms of gender and age, and active participation by women and young adults in community groups, alleviate the negative effects of heterogeneity and increase collective capacity, which in turn improves agriculture productivity and welfare.”)[5]
  • When women organise, when they form into groups and connect with others in larger groups, they are better able to make changes in their own lives, in their communities, in legislation, and in restrictive social and norms.[6]

For further reading:  Drivers of change in gender norms: An annotated bibliography

[1] Mansuri, Ghazala Rao, Vijayendra. 2012. Localizing Development: Does Participation Work? https://elibrary.worldbank.org/doi/abs/10.1596/978-0-8213-8256-1

[2] Anne M. Larson, Iliana Monterroso and Pamela Cantuarias, Gender and the formalization of native communities in the Peruvian Amazon, CIFOR, 2019;Kaa

[3] Raghunathan, Kalyani, et al. “Can Women’s Self‐Help Groups Improve Access to Information, Decision‐Making, and Agricultural Practices? The Indian Case.” Agricultural Economics, vol. 50, no. 5, 2019, pp. 567–580. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/agec.12510

[4] Klugman, Jeni; Hanmer, Lucia; Twigg, Sarah; Hasan, Tazeen; McCleary-Sills, Jennifer; Santamaria, Julieth. 2014. Voice and Agency : Empowering Women and Girls for Shared Prosperity. Washington, DC: World Bank Group

[5] McCarthy, N., & Kilic, T. (2015). The nexus between gender, collective action for public goods and agriculture: Evidence from Malawi. Agricultural Economics, 46(3), 375-402. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/agec.12170

[6] Hannay, L. (2016). “Peru Case Study,” in Gender and Collectively Held Land: Good Practices and Lessons Learned from Six Global Case Studies. Seattle: Resource Equity. Freudenburg, M. and Santos, F. (2013). “Enhancing Customary Justice Systems in the Mau Forest, Kenya: Impact Evaluation Report.” USAID.

Unfortunately, I could not find specific data on the percentage of women who have obtained title deeds under customary ownership. The figures I was able to get are all from the FAO database and primarily relate to agricultural land: http://www.fao.org/gender-landrights-database/data-map/statistics/en/?sta_id=1164.

According to the agricultural census from 2002, 19.7 percent of agricultural holders were women and 80.3 percent were men. The agricultural holder is the person who makes the major decisions regarding resource use and exercises management control over the agricultural holding

Of total agricultural land owners, 45.2 percent were women and 54.8 percent were men in 2013 (LSMS-ISA 2012-2013). The agricultural landowner is defined as the legal owner of the agricultural land, but the indicator may not necessarily reflect documented ownership certified by a legal document.

Of total household agricultural land, 16 percent is owned by women and 44 percent is owned by men; 39 percent is owned jointly by women and men (LSMS, 2010-2011,[1] Doss et al. 2015)[2]

While the legal framework generally upholds women’s rights to land, in rural areas patriarchal practices predominate whereby men are de facto heads of households and have greater rights to land than women. The law is still weak in regard to women’s inheritance rights to land, and inheritance practices discriminate severely against women (FAO GLRD, country study).

Under the Village Land Act, seven-member Village Land Councils must be comprised of at least three women. The Village Land Council has a minimum quorum of four members, at least two of whom must be women. The Act provides that the nine-member Village Adjudication Committees, tasked in part with safeguarding women’s interests, must be comprised of at least four women. Five members are required for a quorum; at least two of which must be women (FAO GLRD, country study).

The Land Act of 1999 (Part XII) provides the legal framework for shared tenure. The Act recognizes two forms of shared tenure, joint occupancy and occupancy in common. Joint occupancy can only be created among spouses and exists when land as a whole is occupied jointly under a right of occupancy or lease. This means that: (a) there can be no disposition without agreement by all occupiers; (b) the joint occupiers—while alive—can only transfer their interest to the other joint occupier(s); and (c) when a joint occupier dies, interest vests in the surviving occupier (or occupiers, in which case jointly) (FAO GLRD, country study).

With occupancy in common, each occupier is entitled to an undivided share in the whole. The implications are that: (1) any occupier in common needs the consent in writing of the other occupier(s) before he or she can transact his or her interest to another person, but consent cannot be “unreasonably” withheld and (2) when an occupier dies, his or her share becomes part of the estate and his or her heir inherits the land. The legal presumption is that spouses hold all land that is co-occupied and used by both (or all) as occupiers in common, and the presumption of co-occupancy for spouses applies to granted rights (certificate of occupancy) and customary rights (customary certificate of occupancy). Co-occupancy is not presumed, under the Land Act, to apply to land that belonged to one spouse prior to the marriage (FAO GLRD, country study).

The Law of Marriage Act prohibits one spouse from alienating his or her interest in the matrimonial home (including associated agricultural land allocated by a husband or wife to his or her spouse for exclusive use) without the consent of the other spouse(s) (FAO GLRD, country study).

Click Here for a recent article that discusses the issues your question raises.  The article has case studies and gives a good feel for the issues faced by women but does not have hard statistics.

[1] Living Standard Measurement Study (LSMS) survey. LSMS-ISA (LSMS-Integrated Surveys on Agriculture)
[2] Doss, C., Kovarik, C., Peterman, A., Quisuming, A.R., Bold, M.V. den, 2015. Gender inequalities in ownership and control of land in Africa: Myth and Reality. Agricultural Economics 46(2).

There is some research that says, “yes.”  A paper given at the 2018 World Bank Land Conference found that financial conditionality was motivation for joint titling.

Cherchi, Ludovica; Goldstein, Markus; Habyarimana, James; Montalvao, Joao; O’Sullivan, Michael; and Udry, Chris, “Incentives for Joint Land Titling: Experimental Evidence from Uganda,” 2018 World Bank Conference On Land And Poverty, The World Bank – Washington DC, March 19-23, 2018.

That research looked at conditionality and gender information as motivation for joint titling—together and separate—in Uganda. The research found that:

Imposing conditionality raised co-titling probability by 31% among gender uninformed HHs, and by 14% among informed HH.

  • Providing information raised co-titling probability by 16% among HH offered titles unconditionally, and no impact among HH offered titles conditionally.

  • Fully-subsidized land titles successfully generated high overall demand for titling, as well as for co-titling.

  • Imposing gender conditionality on subsidy raised demand for co-titling, without dampening overall demand for titling.

  • Providing additional gender information in isolation further raises demand for co-titling, though not as much as the conditionality, and has no impact on demand for titling.

A reduction in the stamp duty, for lands registered in the name of women, has encouraged women’s property ownership rights in some states in India (e.g. Himachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana, and Delhi). https://landportal.org/debates/2017/womens-land-rights-india-and-sustainable-development-goals-sdgs

  • Goal 1: End poverty in all its forms everywhere

  • Target 1.4: By 2030, aims to ensure that all men and women, in particular the poor and the vulnerable, have equal rights to economic resources, as well as access to basic services, ownership and control over land and other forms of property, inheritance, natural resources, appropriate new technology and financial services, including microfinance.

  • Indicator 1.4.2: Proportion of total adult population with secure tenure rights to land, with legally recognized documentation, and who perceive their rights to land as secure, by sex and by type of tenure.

  • Goal 5: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls

  • Target 5.a: Undertake reforms to give women equal rights to economic resources, as well as access to ownership and control over land and other forms of property, financial services, inheritance and natural resources, in accordance with national laws.

  • Indicator 5.a.1: (a) Proportion of total agricultural population with ownership or secure rights over agricultural land, by sex; and (b) share of women among owners or rights-bearers of agricultural land, by type of tenure.

The first place to look is on the UNSTAT website:  https://unstats.un.org/sdgs. Under Quick Links, go to SDG database: https://unstats.un.org/sdgs/indicators/database/. You will see at the bottom of that page that there is the ability to search for data on specific indicators, but indicator 1.4.2 and 5.a.1 do not have available data. However, if you click on metadata repository https://unstats.un.org/sdgs/metadata/, it will take you to a page where the indicators are listed.

On that page click on SDG 1.4.2 and also 5.a.1, and you will go to a page for each that will describe the following:

  • Institutional Information (which institution is responsible for the data collection, etc.)
  • Concepts and Definitions
  • Methodology
  • Data Sources
  • Data Availability
  • Data Calendar
  • Data Providers
  • Data Compilers
  • References

“The custodians of 1.4.2 together with FAO and UN Women, custodians of 5.a.1, developed a standardized, consolidated and succinct survey instrument with essential questions as data collection requirements are partly similar. The standardization of indicator definitions improves data comparability across countries. The scope and capacity for standardized data collection, analysis and reporting across NSOs is expected to rise with progressive data collection and implementation of the methodology. The module will be made available to NSOs (National Statistic Offices) for integration in survey instruments already in place, and will be used by other international household survey programs working with NSOs, (such as LSMS and UIS). The module can be used by any other complementary survey instrument implemented by other actors, using a data collection protocol that meets SDG 1.4.2 requirements, while the data produced are approved and reported by NSO to the custodians. In addition, both the USAID and the Millennium Challenge Cooperation (MCC) have agreed to incorporate the essential questions from 5.a.1 and 1.4.2 into future land impact evaluations and has already done so for upcoming ones. The Property Rights Index initiative has integrated the SDG questions into its data collection tools on perceptions of tenure security. This range of efforts will further expand data availability and leverage efforts by NSOs to report on this indicator. Country-specific metadata will be elaborated that provides an inventory of the tenure types and type of documents in use, identifies which documents are legally recognized as evidence of land rights with images of each document, and elaborates on the correspondence between the two types of data sets (survey data and administrative data). This instrument will ensure consistency of definitions across countries. These country specific metadata will also be used for customizing surveys.” (emphasis added)

The Gender and Land Rights Statistical Database (http://www.fao.org/gender-landrights-database/en/) provides what data is available by country for the following indicators:

1f.           Distribution of Agricultural Holders by Sex (females)

1m.        Distribution of Agricultural Holders by Sex (males)

2f.           Distribution of Agricultural Landowners by Sex (females)

2m.        Distribution of Agricultural Landowners by Sex (males)

3f.            Incidence of Female Agricultural Landowners

3m.          Incidence of Male Agricultural Landowners

4f.            Distribution of Agricultural Land Area Owned by Sex (Females)

4m.          Distribution of Agricultural Land Area Owned by Sex (Males)

A technical note is available to explain the indicators, and you can view them by region or by country.

Yes. Here are two examples, but there are many more. Mozambique’s Family law (No 10/2004), states that immovable property, whether belonging to each spouse individually or as common property, may only be transferred to others with the express permission of both spouses. Section 40 of the Uganda Land Act states that spouses have the right to use, access and live on their husband’s land and they may withhold their consent to stop land transactions.

Several states in India have lowered the tax placed on legal documents usually in the transfer of assets or property (Delhi, Gujarat, Haryana, Himchal Pradesh, Madya Pradesh, Maharastra, Punjab, and Utter Pradesh). In some states, if land is registered in the name of women, no (or reduced) stamp duty is charged. In other states, if a husband adds his wife to the title, no stamp duty is charged.

In Nepal, the government waives part of the land registration fee when land is registered in a woman’s name. The exemption started at 10 percent in 2006, increasing to 20 percent in 2007 and 25 percent in 2009. As a result, the amount of land registered in women’s names more than tripled. In Ghana, the number of documents registered by women in their own names in the deeds registration system increased substantially between 2005, when there were only two land registries in the whole country, and 2006, when land administration was decentralized and more registries were opened outside the capital. Decentralization was accompanied by a public awareness campaign, informing women and men about the opening of new deeds registry offices where they could register their documents (See, Governing land for women and men).

Other activities that encourage women’s names on documents include promoting the participation of women employees in the registration process and conducting public awareness campaigns that target women and inform them of the importance of land rights and registration, where rights can be registered and under which conditions – service fees, need of proof, etc.

Lao successfully encouraged women’s names to be included on documents by funding the Lao Women’s Union to educate and inform women of their rights. The Lao Women’s Union (LWU) is the official state organization that advocates for gender equity.  For a period of time, the LWU was a very active member of the titling brigades. Gender was integrated into the education, training and information dissemination activities at the village level by the LWU.

Be sure there are at least two signature lines on land documents.

In my opinion, laws against polygamy are ineffective at best and harmful to women at worst. Even though women very often do not want their husbands to take a second wife, and a second wife (and children) can stretch already limited resources, making polygamy illegal does not stop polygamy. But, if polygamy is illegal, subsequent marriages will be illegal and unregistered, and subsequent wives will have no legal rights to their husband’s income or assets. Second wives are often women who are vulnerable because they are young and have little or no income or choice about who they marry. I do not know who the “we” refers to in your question, but I think thoroughly understanding the issues related to polygamy for all women would be a critical first step. Where does polygamy occur? Under what conditions does polygamy occur? What is the attitude toward it in rural areas? Urban areas? What is the current law? What issues does the current law raise for first and second or subsequent wives? Who wants to change the law and why? What could the unintended consequences be? If polygamy, which was legal, is outlawed, the law should be very careful not to apply to current polygamous marriages—should not apply retroactively because that could be very harmful to women and children already in a polygamous family.

Research indicates that when women are empowered through having secure rights to land, their agricultural productivity improves; they are more included in household decision-making, which has a positive impact on their families; and their income may improve. Here are some examples from Africa and beyond.

Agricultural yields and investment:

  • In Rwanda, land titling boosted land investment among male-headed households by 10% and for female-headed households by nearly twice as much (Ali, et al., 2014).
  • Women’s concern over loss of land reduces their investments in land even when their husbands are alive. In Zambia, secure inheritance rights for widows are associated with higher land investment by married couples, including fertilizer application, fallowing, and use of labor-intensive tillage practices meant to reduce erosion and run-off. Investment is highest when the widow inherits, lower when someone in her family inherits, and lowest when the land reverts to the chief or another family member (Dillon & Voena, 2017).


Female farmers are largely excluded from modern contract-farming arrangements because they lack secure control over land, labor, and other resources required to guarantee a reliable flow of produce (FAO-SOFA Team & Doss, 2011; Croppenstadt, Goldstein, & Rosas, 2013).

Secure land rights are important for the well-being of families, whether a woman is head of her household or lives in a household headed by a man (Smith, Ramakrishnan, Ndiaye, & Martorell, 2003). Households where women have rights to land are likely to spend a larger portion of household income on food (Menon, ven der Meulen Rodgers, & Nguyen, 2014); an increase in female landholdings is associated with increases in household food expenditure and levels of child education (Katz & Chamorro, 2002); and children of mothers who own land are less likely to be severely underweight because women have control over household decisions (Allendorf, 2007).

  • In Tanzania, women who reported having strong property and inheritance rights were more likely to be employed outside of the home, more likely to be self-employed, and more likely to have higher gross earnings. Moreover, women in communities with stronger property and inheritance rights for women have greater individual savings (Peterman, 2011). A study in Ethiopia also found that when the larger community of women has land rights, individual women’s rights are improved (Holden & Bezu, 2014).
  • In Ethiopia, in the event of a no-fault divorce, women who brought in some land to the marriage expect to receive more land and livestock in the event of a divorce than those who did not bring land into the marriage, and women who individually own more livestock and hold user rights on a larger share of the household’s land expect to receive more land and livestock in the event of divorce than those with no livestock or a smaller share of household land. In addition, women who bring more assets into the household, either at the time of marriage or through inheritance, have more say in farming decisions (Fafchamps & Quisumbing, 2002).

Labor and Income:

  • In Rwanda, a study by Ali (2017) shows  higher incomes for both men and women, a drop in farm labor, and women’s shift toward self- and wage-employment.

How do we achieve that?

This is a big question with many moving parts. The critical things are to: (1) understand the context, including the law, customs of different groups, the land tenure systems, the political situation, and what women want to focus on—what are the biggest constraints women face (for example, widows lose rights to their land); and (2) understand which land rights you want to secure or improve—the right to use, the right to benefit from, the right to manage/make decisions—and what would make them more secure (longer term, more enforcable, not changed by marital status, etc.).

Ali, D. A., Deininger, K., & Goldstein, M. (2014). Environmental and gender impacts of land tenure regularization in Africa: pilot evidence from Rwanda. Journal of Development Economics, 110, 262-275.

Allendorf, K. (2007). Do women’s land rights promote empowerment and child health in Nepal? World Development, 35(11), 1975-1988.

Dillon, B., & Voena, A. (2017, January). Inheritance Customs and Agricultural Investment.

Croppenstadt, A., Goldstein, M. , & Rosas, N. (2013). Gender and Agriculture, Inefficiencies, Segregation, and Low Productivity Traps. Washington, D.C.: World Bank, Development Economics Vice Presidency, Partnerships, Capacity Building Unit.

Fafchamps, M., & Quisumbing, A. (2002). Control and Ownership Over Assets Within Rural Ethiopian Households. Journal of Development Studies, 38(6).

FAO-SOFA Team, & Doss, C. (2011). The Role of Women and Agriculture. Rome: FAO.

Holden, S., & Bezu, S. (2014). Joint Land Certification, Gendered Preferences, and Land-related Decisions: Are Wives Getting More Involved?”. As, Norway: Centre for Land Tenure Studies/School of Economics and Business Norwegian University of Life Sciences.

Katz, E., & Chamorro, J. (2002). Gender, land rights, and the household economy in rural Nicaragua and Honduras. Madison, WI: USAID/BASIS CRSP.

Menon, N., ven der Meulen Rodgers, Y., & Nguyen, H. (2014). Women’s Land Rights and Children’s Human Capital in Vietnam. World Development, 54, 18-31.

Peterman, A. (2011). Women’s Property Rights and Gendered Policies: Implications for Women’s Long-term Welfare in Rural Tanzania. Journal of Development Studies, 47(1).

Smith, L., Ramakrishnan, U., Ndiaye, A., & Martorell, R. (2003). The Importance of Women’s Status for Child Nutrition in Developing Countries. IFPRI.

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