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Updated on 8 March 2022.Photo: @FAO



Land & Gender recounted

By Anne Hennings, peer-reviewed by Renee Giovarelli, co-founder of Resource Equity.


Women’s access to land and female tenure (in)security have increasingly taken center stage in the context of achieving gender equity, economic growth and social development, and in mitigating the impact of climate change. In fact, women are more likely to face tenure insecurity than men, particularly in the Global South. From large-scale land acquisitions that displace communities without due compensation, to the encroachment of indigenous lands, the impact of climate change and natural disasters, to everyday land and property deprivation by kin or state, women are more likely to experience land tenure insecurity and related impacts due to discriminatory laws, social practices, and patriarchal norms.

Although in many rural societies the majority of women work the land, millions of them lack direct, unmediated rights to the land. They face multiple layers of discrimination in both law and practice, intersecting with questions of race, ethnicity, political affiliation, age, or social status. In addition, the poor involvement of women in decision-making and weak negotiating power, coupled with rigid patriarchal norms and value systems, often prevent women to speak up and voice demands. Conversely, without effective legal control over the land they farm or the proceeds of their labor, women often lack the incentive, security, opportunity, or authority to make decisions about ways to conserve the land and to ensure its long-term productivity. 


The Sustainable Development Goals 1.4.2, 5.a.1, and 5.a.2 acknowledge the critical role of secure land tenure for women in the pursuit of gender equality and sustainable development. Monitoring these indicators will also help to collect data on women’s land rights and access to land systematically. In 2020, Prindex conducted the first global survey of women’s perception of tenure security covering 140 countries. It shows that 20 percent of women (as much as men) feel tenure insecure, especially in South Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, and North America [1].

* Note from Land Portal: even though we use "Gender" on the title of this portfolio, the descriptive text on this page focuses exclusively on the perspective of women. However, "Land & Gender" is used to tag several resources on the Land Portal which encompass both the perspectives of women and men in dealing with land issues.

International Laws and Practices

As diverse as national and customary tenure systems are, a global mosaic of tenure arrangements with different implications for men and women has emerged. There are no global, legally binding, guidelines on land policy regarding women’s access to land in place. However, there are a few guidelines that have served (partially) as a blueprint in some land reform processes. Namely, the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests (VGGT) provide for a gender-sensitive approach to empowering women in tenure.

Challenges and Risks

The “global gender gap” in land and property rights has many faces that vary across regions and within countries [2]. Tenure security has multiple dimensions and men as well as women may experience it differently. Even where legislation provides for female land rights, women are often relegated to smaller plots with lower quality or no access to requisite agricultural extensions services, or they lack control of the land and its economic outputs. Women continue facing gender biases and discrimination within families and communities, or by officials implementing land reform schemes. 

With land formalization campaigns under way in many countries of the Global South, numerous women have received joint titles together with their spouses. However, individual or joint formal documentation does not necessarily result in a higher perceived tenure security for women, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa [3]. Research shows that legal pluralism in combination with strong community or family norms - that may not recognize women’s rights to land - affect female tenure security [4]. Although in some cases the role of the patriarchy was overemphasized, customary norms and the ability to participate in decision-making play a key role in tenure security [5]. 

Claiming land rights - including claims to inheritance - may lead to conflicts between women and their families or the community, and women risk losing their support network  [6]. On the other hand, statutory dispute resolution mechanisms require legal and financial resources and may be inaccessible to women for social or linguistic reasons. Little attention has been paid to tenure insecurity or claims of second and third wives and informal spouses as well as the challenges of women’s access to land in Muslim contexts [7].

Women, Community and Indigenous Land Rights

Despite the tendency of most countries towards more individualized statutory tenure, customary land rights and community-held tenure systems are still common. Research shows that the livelihoods of many peasant and indigenous women rely on a combination of individual and collective tenure arrangements [8]. Under customary law, tenure security is closely related to a person’s position within the group. Women are seen as “transient” members of the community, expected to “marry out” of their birth communities. Hence women often lose their natal community rights upon marriage, without being fully accepted as members of their marital communities. Communities with polygamous arrangements further complicate and dilute women’s land rights [9].

The increasing recognition of customary and indigenous land rights also brings up questions of gender inequity within these tenure systems [10]. Oftentimes, women may only access land through their relationship with male family members but are unlikely to control, manage, or inherit it. These secondary rights to land are further challenged by commercial pressures and related land use changes. Women are particularly and adversely impacted when community and indigenous peoples’ collective land rights are disregarded for land and natural resources-based investments or development projects that often lead to displacement and/or the loss of livelihoods.

Women, Land and Climate Change

Climate change and natural disasters affect women and men differently. Research demonstrates that limited access to and control over land and natural resources as well as to social security and finances result in high vulnerabilities of women to mitigate, adapt, and recover from climate change-related hazards [11]. This is exacerbated by a low marital or social status and intersects with belonging to an ethnic minority or indigenous group, for example. The gender differences in adaptive capacities and risk exposure are mirrored in higher workloads, weaker capacities to diversify livelihood options, and safety risks due to longer distances to look for water, wood, or medicine [12]. In addition, the adoption of certain coping strategies may systematically disadvantage women, such as prioritizing men in food access or the withdrawal of girls from schools.

Emerging evidence suggests that when women hold secure rights to land, efforts to tackle climate change tend to be more successful, and responsibilities and benefits associated with climate change response programs are more equitably distributed [13]. Nonetheless, overemphasis on women as chief stewards of the environment has been criticized for over-whelming women’s already heavy, disproportionate caretaking load, whether of the home or of the planet [14].

The Way Forward

In order to achieve gender-equitable land tenure, discriminatory laws, institutions, customary practices, and social norms need to be addressed. Women’s land rights are generally considered secure if they are defined clearly and for a known duration; socially and legally legitimate and recognized; unaffected by changes in social status that would not affect men’s tenure security (such as dissolution of marriage by divorce or death), enforceable and directly exercisable without an additional layer of approval that applies only to women.

The current emphasis on providing formal titles to women may help increase tenure security under certain circumstances, such as widowhood or divorce in areas with high pressure on land. At the same time, formalization may entail high transaction cost or complicated administrative tasks. That said, land governance also needs to protect the rights of women in collectively held land [15].

More reliable data on the national and local level is necessary to tailor strategies closely to local realities and challenges [16]. The SDGs related to women’s land rights are a first important step to generate comprehensive and systematic evidence of sex-disaggregated land rights data as well as the perception on tenure security. This will benefit and inform laws, policymaking, and implementation campaigns. In a similar vein, the Stand for Her Land campaign (S4HL) brings together grassroot women’s leadership in Africa and beyond calling for governments and development agencies to prioritize the realization of already existing strong legal standards for women. 


[1] Prindex. 2020. Women’s perceptions of tenure security. Evidence from 140 countries. London. URL:

[2] Scalise, Elisa and Giovarelli, Renee. 2020. What works for women’s land and property rights? What we know and what we need to know. Research Consortium on Women’s land Rights/ Resource Equity. URL:

[3] Prindex. 2020. Women’s perceptions of tenure security. Evidence from 140 countries. London.

Sutz, Philippine. 2021. Why simple solutions won’t secure African women’s land rights. IIED Briefing. URL:

[4] Doss, Cheryl; Meinzen-Dick, Ruth. 2020. Land tenure security for women: A conceptual framework. Land Use Policy 99. URL: 

[5] Chigbu, U.E. 2019. Masculinity, men and patriarchal issues aside: How do women’s actions impede women’s access to land? Matters arising from a peri-rural community in Nigeria. Land Use Policy 81, 39–48.

[6] R. Pradhan, R. Meinzen-Dick, S. Theis. 2018. Property Rights, Intersectionality, and Women’s Empowerment in Nepal. International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) Discussion Paper No. 1702.  Washington, DC. URL:

[7] But see: Global Land Alliance. Forthcoming 2022. Invisible and Excluded: Risk to Informal Wives from Land Tenure Formalization and Titling Campaigns. 

UN-HABITAT and GLTN. 2018. Women and Land in the Muslim World Pathways to increase access to land for the realization of development, peace and human rights. Nairobi. URL:

[8] Sutz, Philippine. 2021. Why simple solutions won’t secure African women’s land rights. IIED Briefing. URL:

[9] Yaro, A. 2010. Customary tenure systems under siege: contemporary access to land in Northern Ghana Geo Journal 75:2 , 199-214.

[10] Errico, Stefania. 2021. Women’s Right to Land Between Collective and Individual Dimensions. Some Insights From Sub-Saharan Africa. Frontiers in Sustainable Food Systems 5: 690321. URL:

[11] FAO. 2021a. The impact of disasters and crises on agriculture and food security: 2021. Rome. URL:

Resurrección, B.P., Bee, B.A., Dankelman, I., Park, C.M.Y, Halder, M., & McMullen, C.P. 2019. Gender- transformative climate change adaptation: advancing social equity. Background paper to the 2019 report of the Global Commission on Adaptation. Rotterdam and Washington, DC.

[12] Resurrección et al, 2019; Meinzen-Dick, R., Rubin, D., Elias, M., Mulema, A.A. & Myers, E. 2019. Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture: Lessons from Qualitative Research. IFPRI Discussion Paper 1797. Washington, DC, International Food Policy Research Institute.

[13] FAO and ARC. 2021. Women’s leadership and gender equality in climate action and disaster risk reduction in Africa – A call for action. Accra, FAO. URL:

[14] GEF/UNDP. 2018. Women as Environmental Stewards - The Experience of the Small Grants Programme. UNDP. URL:

[15] Sutz, Philippine. 2021. Why simple solutions won’t secure African women’s land rights. IIED Briefing. URL:

[16] See for example Ghebru, H. 2019. New challenges for women in Africa. URL:

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