Women, Wives and Land Rights in Africa: Situating Gender Beyond the Household in the Debate Over Land Policy and Changing Tenure Systems

February 2002
Ingrid Yngstrom (Oxford Development Studies, Vol.30, No.1, 2002, pp.21-40)

Argues that the debate over land reform in Africa is embedded in evolutionary models, in which it is assumed that landholding systems are evolving into individualised systems of ownership with greater market integration. This process is seen to be occurring even without state protection of private land rights through titling. Gender as an analytical category is excluded in evolutionary models. Women are accommodated only in their dependent position as the wives of landholders in idealised ’households’. Argues that gender relations are central to the organisation and transformation of landholding systems. Women have faced different forms of tenure insecurity, both as wives and in their relations with wider kin, as landholding systems have been integrated into wider markets. These cannot be addressed while evolutionary models dominate the policy debate. Draws out these arguments from experiences of tenure reform in Dodoma, Tanzania, and asks how policy-makers might address these issues differently.