Liberalisation and the Debates on Women’s Access to Land

December 2007
Shahra Razavi (Third World Quarterly, 28, 8, 2007, pp.1479-1500)

The reform of land tenure institutions is now back on the national and global policy agendas. While at a certain level of generality the principle of gender equality in access to resources, including land, has been endorsed by a diverse range of policy actors, there are many tensions and ambiguities likely to obstruct women’s effective access to land and its contribution to decent livelihoods. There are important questions about liberalisation policies vis-a-vis land, given the well documented difficulties that low-income women in particular face in accessing land through markets. Moreover, access to land can only play a complementary role in women’s (and men’s) livelihoods, and one that needs to be matched by income from employment. But many developing countries today confront formidable barriers to industrialisation and employment generation. There are also troubling implications from a gender perspective in the current endorsement of ‘customary’ systems of land tenure and decentralisation of land management. Women’s rights advocates fear that this can play into the hands of powerful interest groups hostile to women’s rights.