Discourses on Women’s Land Rights in Sub-Saharan Africa: The Implications of the Re-turn to the Customary

June 2003
Ann Whitehead and Dzodzi Tsikata (Journal of Agrarian Change, vol. 3, nos.1 and 2, January and April, 2003, 67-112)

Examines some contemporary policy discourses on land tenure reform in sub-Saharan Africa and their implications for women’s interests in land. Demonstrates an emerging consensus among a range of influential policy institutions (including the World Bank, IIED and Oxfam GB), lawyers and academics about the potential of so-called customary systems of land tenure to meet the needs of all land users and claimants. African women lawyers are much more equivocal about trusting the customary, preferring to look to the State for laws to protect women’s interests. There are considerable problems with so-called customary systems of land tenure and administration for achieving gender justice with respect to women’s land claims. Insufficient attention is being paid to power relations in the countryside and their implications for social groups, such as women, who are not well positioned and represented in local level power structures. Considerable changes will be needed before African states can begin to deliver gender justice with respect to land.