Gender and land


Land governance reform initiatives often refer to gender equality, but some reforms can also entrench male privilege in access to land. Women’s control over land is shaped by culturally-specific inheritance practices, by their role in agricultural and other livelihood practices, and by legal systems of the countries where they live. Changing labour practices and engagement with capitalist property rights arrangements are having profound effects on gender relations in communities, reshaping hierarchies of power and influencing family and wider social relationships. Change can be both for the betterment and decline of rights for women. While typically depicted as household caregivers, women often take leading roles in economic production, use of and decisions about land and resources, and controlling household income. Enhancing gender equality has the potential to positively impact upon production systems, supporting food security and cementing a right for women to choose how they contribute to these systems. Gender is a significant dimension of how people react to conflict and livelihood traumas, such as through forced evictions and relocations. Women often take a leading role in protests against land-related violations.

Key reform issues:

  • Gender mainstreaming in proactive policy that gives women an equal chance of gaining secure land tenure rights
  • Access to credit and land-related services, where women can also gain investment opportunities through their land and contribute to poverty reduction
  • The provision of joint-titling options, improving women’s bargaining power within the household
  • Improved education to inform both women and men on gender opportunities within the land sector
  • Inclusion of the voice of women in new land-relation legislation, which tends to be drafted and approved by men

Current critique and debate:

Many gender-based critiques of policy and programs such as land titling point to the biases that arise, for example, by assumptions that men are heads-of-household. Implementers of such programs emphasise legal and safeguard provisions, such as joint titling. Since traditional inheritance practices are culturally specific and vary both between and within countries in the Mekong Region, there is a tension between generalised discussion of the place of women in control over land, on the one hand, and context-specific analysis on the other. There are both matrilineal and patrilineal systems within the region. Furthermore, gender-specific legal provisions and practices in formal land ownership within the family unit differ from one country to another. A basic question is the extent to which modern, formalized systems of property relations enhance or degrade the position of women with respect to land.

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