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To What Extent Have Judicial and Non-Judicial Rulings Translated to the Success of Women’s Land Tenure in Western Kenya

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With support of a grant from Resource Equity, David Okeyo conducted research titled “To What Extent Have Judicial and Non-Judicial Rulings Translated to the Success of Women’s Land Tenure in Western Kenya”. This research was commissioned as part of Resource Equity’s initiative to support new research and evidence on the question of the effectiveness of land tenure reforms to improve women’s lives.

Kenya has adopted many legal protections for women’s land rights in its Constitution and legislation. Additional policies and land registration processes have been enacted to improve land tenure security, including for women. However, women still face significant hurdles in exercising these rights. Kenya recognizes customary law and has a dualistic character where formal systems and traditional informal systems are available for conflict resolution, including regarding customary lands. Customary law applies to about 65% of land and in many cases is discriminatory towards women with women only holding secondary land access rights through a male family member or husband. Aside from a few matriarchal communities, patriarchal values throughout the country lead to men holding and inheriting the vast majority of land. Only about 5% of women hold formal legal title to their land. 

Key Findings

This study interviewed many women who have interacted with both judicial and non-judicial systems to understand the range of obstacles preventing them from land access, ownership, control, and security. In addition to traditional values that limit women’s access to land through the family, inheritance, or purchase, even when women have land rights, they often are not secure. Divorce or widowhood can often lead to loss of land for women. 

One of the first obstacles facing women is pressure, intimidation, or even violence from families who do not want them to enforce their land rights. Formal courts are seen to have greater legitimacy, but women often lack legal knowledge, are pressured against using them, or have limited access due to cost and distance. Instead of formal courts or ADR processes, most women use the cheaper, more accessible, and familiar informal traditional systems. However, these systems are predominately controlled by men who apply traditional patriarchal values and customary law. Additionally, informal systems are non-standardized and unpredictable and so the outcome of a case often comes down to the empowerment, knowledge, and resilience of the woman and any social support she may have. Finally, if women are able to obtain a positive resolution in any forum, enforcement is an additional struggle.

To read more about the research and outcomes, access the full paper here.

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