Women and Land Tenure between Customary and Statutory Law: a Case Study of Four Developing Countries

April 4, 2014

By Karima Benbih, Fulbright scholar, PhD Student- Shelter and Settlement – Virginia Tech

In patrilineal societies, women’s access to land has been mediated by their relationship to men. This ongoing challenge to equal access to land touches on the core structure of traditional societies. In the paper Women and Land Tenure between Customary and Statutory Law , which I co-wrote with Jane Katz, Habitat for Humanity International’s International Affairs and Programs Director, we begin with the growing realization that gender dynamics are changing rapidly and explore the resulting impact on land tenure. Population growth, economic market globalization and urbanization, yield deep social changes that affect land bonds and balances in communities, including those that may not yet have fully transitioned from their traditional systems. The result is a peculiar duality between statutory laws and traditional customs that leaves women exposed to tenure vulnerabilities as they are often the least represented portion of the population. Our study is part of the efforts to improve gender equality in developing countries through a shared understanding of the challenges of the customary practices that hinder women's access to land, how countries’ constitutions address these customs and practices, and whether they incorporate them within the newly modernised and highly urbanised societies.

This paper (Full paper), which was prepared and presented by Habitat for Humanity International at the 2014 World Bank Land and Poverty conference, studied four countries:  Armenia, Colombia, Indonesia and Uganda, and looked at inheritance, marriage, and land tenure laws under dual systems. The results reveal that although the legal language in these four countries is gender neutral, the practices in the field are biased. The lack of gender equality awareness exacerbates the practices that hinder women’s fair access to land security, either due to tribal or religious systems over-powering the legal framework, or because the societies perceive the gender inequality as a norm.

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