Making Progress – Slowly. New Attention to Women’s Rights in Natural Resource Law Reform in Africa

February 2001
Liz Alden Wily

Critical shifts are affecting rural resource rights in Africa through widespread reform in land, forestry and other laws. The cutting edge of transformation affecting women is in emerging new provision for wives to hold family property as co-owners with their husbands, which could play a main role in revitalising smallholder agriculture. Recognition that equity in domestic land relations may ultimately be a prerequisite to the modernisation of subsistence agriculture in agrarian economies is the thesis underlying the analysis of legal texts in this paper. More pervasive improvement in women’s resource rights is emerging though indirect changes in law especially those that alter the balance of authority over land and landed resources between state and people with broadly democratising effect. Important for women is greater accessibility to tenure administration, dispute resolution machinery and resource management functions occurring through devolution of centres of control to the periphery.

Presentation to CTA/GOU Regional Conference on the Legal Rights of Women in Agricultural Production, Kampala, Uganda