FIG PUBLICATION NO. 24
Access to Land – FIG Guidelines
Principles for Equitable Gender Inclusion in Land
Background Report and Guidelines
TABLE OF CONTENTS
should surveyors be concerned?
1.2 Scope and outline of
What is Access to Land and Why is it Important?
to land and its resources
Why is Gender an Issue in Land Reform and Land Administration Reform?
cultural and religious beliefs
3.3 Gender targeted
4. A Summary
of the Major Concerns
Monitoring and Evaluating the Land Situation of Women
The Role of International, National, and Non-Governmental Organizations
With the Help of Surveyors – Recommended Guidelines for Surveyors in Land
Land administration procedures should accommodate all segments of the
barriers to access to information
Increasing awareness about the obstacles hindering women’s participation
7.4 Working with
the local customary community
Orders of the printed copies
This report was commissioned by the International
Federation of Surveyors (FIG) through the Swedish International Development
Agency (Sida) and Swedesurvey AB to develop a set of guidelines for ensuring
that land reform and land administration projects in developing countries
and countries in transition are gender inclusive. These guidelines are not
relevant only for projects but to any land administration organisation. The
work is based on research conducted at the University of New Brunswick and
on experience in a number of development projects in Africa, Eastern Europe,
and Central Asia. It is a also a further extension of research conducted by
UNCHS and Sida for Habitat II in Istanbul and by the United Nations Food and
Agricultural Organization (FAO).
This report is adopted by FIG Commission 7 (Cadastre and
Land Management) and its Working Group Women’s Access to Land. Although
Commission 7 focus in more in the rural areas this report and its guidelines
can also be used in land management projects and land administration
organisations in all human settlements.
The guidelines presented for surveyors have been endorsed
by the FIG General Assembly in Seoul, Korea in May 2001.
On behalf of FIG we would like to express our special
thanks to Katalin Komjathy and Dr. Susan E Nichols for their
great work with this report as well as to Agneta Ericsson as the
Chair of the Commission 7 task force on Women’s Access to Land and the
members of her task force. Further we express our thanks to Sida and
Swedesurvey for their financial support in producing this report.
Robert W. Foster
President of FIG Chairperson
Dr. Paul Munro-Faure
FIG Commission 7 – Cadastre and Land Management
Access to Land – FIG Guidelines
Principles for Equitable Gender Inclusion in Land
Background Report and Guidelines
Katalin Komjathy and Susan E. Nichols
Department of Geodesy and Geomatics Engineering
University of New Brunswick
Fredericton, NB, E3B 5A3
The FIG Working Group on Women’s Access to Land
FIG Commission 7 – Cadastre and Land Administration
Swedesurvey AB, Gävle, Sweden
The International Federation of Surveyors FIG
Land development and administration projects and programmes,
as well as other land-related activities, are expected to positively
influence the socio-economic and physical environment of societies. Yet
sometimes good intentions are not enough and sometimes interventions
actually cause harm for particular groups. One such group that is sometimes
at risk in land titling projects, housing and urban development projects,
and agricultural improvement programmes are women. For example, implementing
an irrigation project on marginal land that has been traditionally used by
women may lead to repossession of this improved land by the men of the
community. Issuing certificates of title to the de jure
head of household (usually men) may deprive the de facto heads of
household (increasingly women) from benefiting from a land administration
The purpose of this document is to:
provide background information to surveyors and other
land professionals on why gender issues matter in development projects;
to provide draft guidelines to assist development
project managers, surveyors, land administration agencies, and others in
ensuring that land administration enhances and protects the rights of
all stakeholders, including women.
Why Gender Matters in Land Administration, Development,
There are a number of factors that have raised the need for
more equitable gender inclusion in land-related activities, including the
Many societies have protected the interests of women
through customary law, religious law, and legislation. However, as
societies change through for example, labour migration, divorce,
education, and urban growth, the old rules are not always enough to
ensure that women have access to the land, shelter, credit and other
resources they require to raise children and care for other family
Where pressure on land is intense, through for example,
environmental degradation or urban sprawl, women are often relegated to
the less profitable tracts of land. Yet woman in developing countries
are responsible for up to 80 or 90% of rural agricultural production.
Women's rights in land are often different than those of
men in traditional societies and "western" land titling approaches
cannot always protect these partial and use rights. For example, they
may have limited rights to gather firewood, to harvest fruit, or to
return to family land in the future. How can certificates of title
capture (and thus protect) these interests during privatization and/or
There are equity and human rights issues at stake. And
even if there were not, women’s access to land should be protected
because women are often the most productive, yet the most needy, segment
of society with respect to land.
Without specific attention to gender inclusiveness, an
important segment of society will excluded from the benefits of land
administration, management, and development schemes.
How The Processes Can be Improved
This report points out that one of the main ways to maintain
or enhance equitable gender inclusion in land-related activities is to first
understand more about the complex and dynamic nature of many tenure systems.
Land administration projects and programmes targeting equitable gender
inclusion also need to include evaluating and monitoring components. The
indicators assessing the quality and quantity of access to land and housing
before, during, and after an intervention are essential to make informed
decisions about forthcoming actions.
In land-related projects, the number of registered titles or
the number of certificates handed out is too often the only "measure" of who
holds what rights in land. These do not always capture the lesser
traditional rights that are most often held by women. Nor do they
necessarily refer to the de facto head of household and decision
maker or to the "unmarried partner". Legislation may exist and may even have
provisions for protecting women in cases of inheritance or divorce. However,
what real access do many poor women have to legal assistance and procedures,
especially if they are acting against traditional family or community
This report therefore begins a process of documenting some
of the indicators that may better represent the quality and quantity of
rights of access to land and natural resources. These include for example:
Access to the local customary decision-making bodies and
their theoretical and real roles in these bodies;
Social status in the community based on access to land;
Role in decision making;
Participation in formal and informal land transactions
and housing markets (and the types of transactions);
Income sources for men and women;
Percentage of population by gender depending on
agriculture for their livelihood;
Share in formal and informal agricultural labour;
Proportion of food produced directly by women;
Percentage of people by gender living in rural and urban
Draft Guidelines for Equitable Gender Inclusion
The guidelines developed in this report are arranged around
four major objectives:
Establishing land administration procedures that
accommodate all segments of the population;
Removing barriers women face while they seek information
regarding their rights and responsibilities associated with land and
Broadening practitioners’ understanding and appreciation
of the circumstances that limit women’s participation in land related
matters, and the importance of finding alternative means to include
women in those decisions; and
Working with the local customary community.
These guiding principles are directed towards project
managers in international and national development activities, towards
surveyors in general, and towards land administration agencies in all
In no way are the guidelines presented here exhaustive. The
FIG Working Group on Women’s Access to land therefore welcomes comments and
additions to this work.
Principles for Equitable Gender Inclusion in
Background Report and Guidelines
Katalin Komjathy and Susan E. Nichols
Land and housing are central issues in developing economies.
How land tenure issues are addressed in development projects can directly impact
the livelihood and security of people in urban, peri-urban, and rural settings.
Failing to address the land and shelter rights of all stakeholders in a land
development project or programme can cause unexpected problems and inequities,
and often for the most vulnerable and disadvantaged members of society.
Whether due to tradition, law, education, or economics, women
are sometimes at risk in land development projects, even if it is intended that
they share the benefits. For example, improving irrigation on women’s fields may
have the unintended effect of having these now valuable fields reclaimed by men
in the community. Enhancing housing in a community or peri-urban area may have
similar unintended results when the units become more marketable. Professionals,
such as surveyors, who are involved with land and housing projects therefore
need to be aware of gender issues and need to ensure that the real objectives of
the projects are truly met.
The purpose of this document is twofold:
to provide background information to surveyors and other
land professionals on why gender issues matter in development projects;
to provide guidelines to assist development project
managers, surveyors, land administration agencies, and others in
ensuring that land administration enhances and protects the rights of
all stakeholders, including women.
This report was commissioned by the International Federation
of Surveyors (FIG) through the Swedish International Development Agency (Sida)
and Swedesurvey AB to develop a set of guidelines for ensuring that land reform
and land administration projects in developing countries and countries in
transition are gender inclusive. The work is based on research conducted at the
University of New Brunswick and on experience in a number of development
projects. It is a further extension of initial work conducted by UNCHS and Sida
for Habitat II in Istanbul and by the United Nations Food and Agricultural
Access to land affects nearly all areas of policy
development. For example, it has direct relationships to agricultural production
and ensuring long term food security. It is a basic component of achieving
sustainable development. Access to land is also a means by which resources and
benefits of those resources are distributed within society, whether they be
adequate shelter, municipal services, or decision-making powers. Finally, but
not least of all, equitable access to land is a human rights issue and as the UN
Economic and Social Council Commission on the Status of Women states, "land
rights discrimination is a violation of human rights".
The dramatic demographic, economic and social changes
affecting urban and rural communities in emerging economies often marginalise
those who are ill-equipped to cope with these shifts. Whether the issue is urban
migration for employment, the decreasing role of men in the community due to
labour opportunities elsewhere, or the need to readjust household relations to
accommodate the elderly, the orphaned, and the sick, people need to be able to
access land and shelter efficiently and equitably. As nontraditional family
arrangements emerge, and as rural lands become engulfed in the urban fringe, the
greatest risks are increasingly to the well-being of the poor, the elderly,
women, and children. Political conflicts, environmental degradation, disease,
and population growth accelerate the stress on land resources. As Crowley 
points out in a recent article in The Economist:
There is an enormous case for investing in women…women are an
underused resource. And the fact that in many places they have no
access to credit hampers rural development.
According to the Second United Nations Conference on Human
Settlements (Habitat II), it is the city that is attracting investment as well
as people, and this trend will continue to accelerate in the future. Friedmann
estimates that in a worldwide scale 30-40 percent of urban populations are
female-maintained. That number can be expected to be larger in many developing
countries where more people may comprise "a household. Yet, how many housing and
urban development projects are targeted to the specific needs of women and their
The 1996 World Food Summit held in Rome pointed out that if
we are to meet the basic food needs of the projected world population as well as
eradicate hunger afflicting an estimated 800 million food-deficit people, we
must have more and better food production and distribution. Recent work by UN
Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has found that indeed it is not uncommon
to find that de facto female headed households form a substantial
proportion (25 percent or more, and sometimes a majority) of the total rural
households in certain rural areas. Although the percentage of women engaged in
agricultural activities varies from community to community, it is estimated that
it can be as high as 90 percent in some areas. Globally women comprise 40
percent or more of the agricultural workforce. It has been long acknowledged
that providing food for the family is primarily the responsibility of women. Yet
women’s direct access to land resources, credit, and shelter can be put at risk
in programmes such as land titling, formalization of property rights, and even
housing or road improvements.
The need for a revised land tenure policy framework that
explicitly addresses women’s access to land is also underscored by the Women’s
Summit findings that in most of today’s societies women have very unequal access
to, and control over land, housing associated resources, and basic
infrastructure. Surveyors and other land professionals, who help to establish
how land rights are allocated, adjudicated, and protected, need to be more aware
that gender inclusive land policies and land institutions are critical. A first
step in this direction is understanding the complexities behind a simple term
such as "access to land".
If there is a common variable in all the information
accumulated, it is the complexity of the issues involved. We cannot recommend a
general outline that will fit all circumstances in the international development
field. The intention here is to raise awareness of some of the most critical
issues that threaten women’s access to benefits from land and emphasize the
importance of developing a better understanding of the situation for urban and
rural women in specific societies.
We begin with a working definition of what access to land and
security of title mean to women and men and their importance in rural and urban
settings. How recent changes have been affecting the relationship between women
and land are examined together with what are (and can be) the outcomes with and
without appropriate actions. A summary of key indicators that can be used by
surveyors, project managers, and others to evaluate and monitor women’s access
to land is presented in Part 5. The report then outlines recommended guidelines
for land administration projects, first from the perspective of national and
international organizations. More detailed principles are then presented to the
surveying community for discussion and improvement within the FIG.
Throughout history, land has been recognized as a primary
source of wealth, social status, and power. It is the basis for shelter, food,
and economic activities; it is the most significant provider of employment
opportunities in rural areas and is an increasingly scarce resource in urban
areas. Access to water and other resources, as well as to basic services such as
sanitation and electricity, is often conditioned by access to and holding rights
in a unit of land. The willingness and ability to make long term investments in
housing and in arable land is directly dependent on the protection society
affords the rights holders. Thus, any concept of sustainable development relies
heavily on both access to property rights and the security of those rights.
Land also has great cultural, religious, and legal
significance. There is a strong correlation in many societies between
decision-making powers and the quantity and quality of land rights one holds. In
rural areas social inclusion or exclusion often depend solely on the
individual’s land holding status. Even in urban areas, the right to participate
in municipal planning, in community decisions, and sometimes elections, can
depend on the status of an individual as a "resident" or "home owner".
Access is the right or opportunity to use, manage, or control
land and its resources. It includes the ability to reach and make use of the
resource. When describing access to land, we can distinguish between
quantitative parameters (such as the nature of tenure, the size of the parcel
and its economic value) and qualitative parameters (for example, legal security,
and documented, or registered evidence of rights to land). These parameters play
an important role in "measuring" access to land before, during and after
In societies following customary rules, women’s direct access
to land through purchase or inheritance is often limited. Since women are the
major producers of household food supply there are usually customary provisions
mothers, sisters, or daughters. These use rights, however, do not grant enough
security for women when traditional family structures dissolve. The economic and
social well-being of women and their children are at increased risk when women
face widowhood and divorce, or when the male head of household does not or
cannot exercise his traditional responsibilities to his family.
In many communities, access to resources is governed by both
written and customary laws. In instances when conflicts exist between
traditional norms and national laws, as is often the case when women’s rights
are considered, local norms generally prevail and are enforced by community
members. Written national laws granting women equal access to productive
resources are essential but for these rights to be legitimate and adhered to, it
is necessary to secure the support of the local community. Thus "having a law"
does not necessarily mean that women have equitable recourse to remedies should
the law be broken.
Equitable access to land does not only mean the quantity of
rights allocated. To make use of the rights and opportunities, access to land
must also be enforceable or secure (for example, against seizure by force or by
law). Equitable access must also be effective, i.e., by including equitable
access to other resources such as irrigation, roads or finance. The support of
legal, customary and family institutions are fundamental if women’s access to
land is to be preserved and improved.
Figure 1. Institutions that Affect Women’s Access to Land
and Housing Rights
The body of evidence stressing that outcomes of land
reform and land administration programmes and projects have different
implications for men and women has grown significantly in recent years.
Traditionally, the involvement of men in such programs was viewed as
sufficient and it was assumed that women and children would equally enjoy
the benefits of the projects as dependents. As poverty and landlessness
continues to expand and "feminization" of poverty becomes more apparent,
development organizations and practitioners have had to seek a new direction
to tackle these problems. Furthermore, as social, political and economical
changes continue to undermine women’s ability to secure adequate housing,
fulfill the food requirement of the household and use land in a sustainable
manner, development projects have begun observing women’s priorities and
concerns as separate issues.
The timeliness of this new vision is underscored by some
experience from the past. As Rocheleau and Edmunds  comment:
Women who enjoy access to a variety of tree, forest and rangeland
resources across the rural landscape may find their access restricted
after formal land titling or land tenure reforms have invested greater
powers of exclusion in land owners, whether male or female. Even where
formal title is given jointly to a husband and wife, a woman may lose
decision-making authority over her former domains on and off farm as the
household ‘heads’ take on the full and exclusive responsibility for the
management of household land and all the plants and animals upon it.
Another example is given by Lastarria-Cornhiel .
Among the Mandinka (…) of Gambia both common and individual property
rights are recognized: family-cleared land designated maruo
collectively farmed by the family but under the control of the male
household head; and individually cleared land designated
which if cleared by a woman gives her access to land with partial
autonomy, controlling the profits and able to transfer land to
daughters. In the late 1940s and early 1950s women sought to establish
kamanyango rights of new rice lands by clearing former
mangrove swamps. In 1984, the Jahaly Pacharr irrigation project,
designed to increase productivity of the rice paddies by enabling
year-round cultivation, recognizing that women were the key farmers on
this land, sought to title the land to women. Household heads (generally
male) registered the land in women’s names but then designated it as
The "Toolkit on Gender in Agriculture", prepared by the World Bank
includes the following observation:
Land title and tenure tend to be vested in men, either by legal
condition or by sociocultural norms. Land reform and resettlement have
tended to reinforce this bias against tenure for women. Land shortage is
common among women. Compared to men, women farm smaller and more
dispersed plots and are less likely to hold title, secure tenure, or the
same rights to use, improve or dispose of land.
Researchers put women’s land ownership between 1 and 2
percent on a world-wide scale, while they report that women comprise 10-90
percent of the agricultural labour force. The percentage of population
living in households that can be considered de facto or de jure
female-headed household is on the rise. Women produce most of the
household’s food supply and their contribution to the overall food
production is also significant, exceeding 50 percent in African nations of
the Sub-Saharan region.
The following subsections further demonstrate how
difficult it can be to protect or enhance women’s access to land and its
In several African countries (e.g., Zimbabwe, Uganda,
Malawi) there have been recent discussions and proposals to document or
register customary rights in land as part of the development of national
land policies. The arguments for these certificates of customary tenure and
for registration are that the processes will:
- provide greater security of tenure on customary lands;
- provide a document that can be used as collateral for credit;
- provide more information for planning and land management.
Despite the merits or limitations of the processes, there
could be significant impacts on women’s access to land. The major difficulty
is the fact that such documentation effectively freezes customary rules that
are in place at the time. No account is made, for example, of such future
rights as the right of a woman to return home and receive a parcel of family
land after a divorce. Limited rights such as the right to pick fruit or
gather wood on another’s property may be eliminated by the documentation.
And then there is the question of whose name(s) the certificates or
registers will record. For example, will the name be the
de facto head of household, who may be a woman whose husband works away
from home, or the de jure head of household according to customary
law; there are limitations with both of these approaches, including the
problem of whether the documents have priority over customary law in cases
of inheritance when both names are recorded.
Traditional laws and religious laws often protected women
and provided for wives, widows, and female children through other means
than, for instance, equal land shares on inheritance. In Islamic law, for
example, girls may receive 1/2 the land that sons receive on the death of
their father. This is in effect their dowry to bring to a marriage. The sons
on the other hand have the responsibility to provide for unmarried sisters
and their mother and in theory require more land. Other cultures have had
similar traditional laws.
The difficulty today is that traditional societies and
religious based communities are not immune to the influence and social
changes around them. Education of women and greater opportunities for
employment and self-sufficiency are affecting many traditional communities.
Divorce, desertion, and urban migration may also challenge the traditional
safety nets. And the devastation of aids and war have fragmented the
extended and traditional family arrangements. At the same time, in the midst
of obvious need for changes, who has the right to demand they be made or to
force another community to adopt its values? This certainly raises ethical
dilemmas for the professional.
International aid organizations have been targeting women
for special assistance for decades. More recently protection and enhancement
of women’s rights to land has become a focus for some land reform projects.
One of the difficulties is that these projects often enhance the value of
the land. So, for example, women may have had parcels of marginal land in
the community to raise personal crops. After a land development project,
this land has received irrigation and a new road is built. The value of the
land is thus enhanced. Will local authorities allow these women to maintain
their land rights after the project is over? Experience in, for example,
housing projects have shown that making improvements may lead to the loss of
the right to use a house allocated to a woman on communally owned land.
The objective of this discussion is not to discourage
action. Instead it was to demonstrate that making changes does not always
result in the benefits originally intended. The situation is complex.
An FAO study identified the following factors as the
major causes of poverty and hunger among rural women and their families:
women’s lack of access and control over productive resources and
rural women are seriously over- and underemployed
persistent inequalities between men and women considering employment
opportunities and compensation
exclusion of women and the poor from decision- and policy-making
legal environments that favours men’s rights over women’s rights
There are many new pressures affecting traditional
arrangements related to women and land that need to be understood and
resolved at the family, community, and national levels. To summarise, some
of the greatest pressures include:
- changing socio-economic conditions, such as increased population, new
types of employment and the growing cash economies;
- urban and peri-urban migration; incorporation and/or replacement of
traditional tribal and religious institutions by national and local
- divorce and changes in inheritance patterns;
- the resulting role of women as sole household provider.
Kalabamu and Njoh express concern over the constraints urban women face
in their attempt to secure acceptable housing. Among the primary impediments
- obtaining title that enables formal land registration is unmanageable
for the poor, most of whom are women, due to cost and time requirements;
- dealing with bureaucracy and providing documentation and information
when going through official channels is also time-consuming and requires
- discriminating land use regulations negatively affect women’s income
generating activities and their safety.
Certificates of Rights (CORs) were introduced [in Botswana] … to
‘provide the urban poor with secure [land tenure while avoiding
involvement in the complexities and costs of title registration’. …Under
the COR, the state retains the ultimate title ownership (…) while
plot-holder rights are usufruct for the sole purpose of erecting an
owner-occupied residential house. … Because of their relative poverty,
most women opted for land under Certificate of Rights. Because of their
rights are not registerable, most women cannot mortgage their rights to
obtain loans from financial institutions (…). Worst still, they may not
legally sub-let part of their units to raise funds. Kalabamu .
In the specific case of Cameroon, discouraging home-based enterprises
through policies that strive to segregate land use activities has meant
for example, that women dealing in ready-to eat food must travel long
distances to organized market places or other activity centres such as
those offering formal employment in order to market their products.
Having some measurement system for evaluating access to
land is essential if the ‘success’ or ‘failure’ of a particular program,
policy, or project is to be determined. There needs to be a set of
indicators that can describe the situation before, during, and after
something (e.g., a new law, a titling project) has occurred. Basically this
is the same as a deformation survey of a dam – campaigns of measurements at
discrete intervals of time to detect movement. The problem in measuring
access to land is similar to the problem of determining which points on the
dam are critical in detecting movement. These ‘points’ become indicators.
Measurement of access to land needs to involve both
qualitative and quantitative parameters. Surveyors and other land
administrators tend to think primarily of property rights to the surface of
the land together with its fixed improvements. The focus becomes the
quantity of rights (e.g., leasehold, freehold, easement), the size of the
parcel of land, or its economic value. On the other hand, social
anthropologists have tended to emphasize the uniqueness of land tenure
systems within a given culture and focus on the nature or quality of the
rights that may be involved. Both approaches are valid for certain purposes
and both have their limitations. If, however, we are to design a way of
measuring women’s access to land it may be important to draw on both
One way of examining the quantity of rights is to view
the ‘bundle" of rights as a spectrum. At one end of the quantitative
spectrum are temporary rights of use. At the other end is absolute control
over what can be done with a particular resource, including who else can use
the resource and for how long. Somewhere in the middle of the spectrum is
the management of the resource where there is more limited decision making
power (e.g., the ability to transfer rights and the opportunities to reap
the direct and indirect profits from the resource). An English common law
freehold estate then might be considered to be at the management level
subject to the overall control of the state. A short term leasehold might be
considered a temporary use right.
Examining the quality of the rights to determine
indicators is more complex and only a few examples can be given here. One
measure of quality is the legal security of the rights, i.e., how well do
formal law (e.g., legislation) or informal law (e.g., traditional or local
community rules) protect the ownership of the rights. Thus, for example,
inheritance through entail or patrilineal inheritance rules may limit
women’s right of management or control. Physical security is another
indicator that may be affected, for example, by war or by custom in many
countries where land is seized by the male relatives on death of a husband.
A third example of quality of rights is transferability. Use rights may
often be non-transferable because they are vested in a family or particular
family members. Furthermore, transferability may be affected by the quality
of the evidence of the right, such as an official document or register.
In assessing the quality and quantity of rights, the
scope of potential rights of access must be broad. For this reason we have
chosen the term "access to land and the benefits of land". Some of these
direct and indirect benefits that should be considered in measuring access
- rights to shelter;
- rights to access water, firewood, fish, or fruit;
- rights to shares in inheritance on the death of a family member;
- rights to shares in land and improvements on the death or departure of
a partner in an informal marriage;
- rights of access to financing and financial inputs;
- rights to the profits from the use or sale of the resource;
- social status in the community based on access to land;
- role in decision-making (e.g., management and control).
The next step for project managers, policy makers and
others who want to know more about the quantity and quality of access to
land, is what specific indicators might be used? These will be important in
pre-project assessments and in later monitoring and post-project evaluation.
Again only a few samples can be given here.
In many land administration projects and programs the
conventional approach has been to use documents of land rights or land
registry records. This has the advantage of being straight forward and
reasonable objective but the limitations are many. Even in western countries
title documents and registers only record a limited set of rights and the
situation is made more complex in customary societies and less-developed
nations where either:
- few documents or registers exist;
- they may not be up-to-date or complete;
- they may not reflect the on-site situation;
- they often only list one name (de jure head of household)
- they probably do not reflect the variety of formal and informal rights
that exist through custom and tradition.
A second major indicator used to measure access to land
is legislation, such as laws for inheritance, divorce, or land use. This
however may also be misleading since the formal legislation may not reflect
what actually is accepted as practice on the ground. One example are the
divorce laws in some socialist states which may recognize equal division of
property. How well a woman’s (or man’s) rights might be protected on
divorce, especially in impoverished rural regions, will also depend on the
degree of access to the courts, ability to finance litigation, and the
degree of support provided by the family or community. Similarly calls for
equal rights in constitutions can be quite meaningless in the actual
practice of local communities.
Other indicators include physical occupation or proof of
the actual exercise of the rights. Again this has some difficulties in that
it may not agree with the formal (legal) status and it may be difficult to
observe (especially in a short time span) all of rights in play. Related to
these indicators are indicators such as: de facto head of household;
primary food provider; community acceptance or agreement of someone’s
rights; or the share of financial and labour inputs. Even more difficult to
measure objectively and completely are factors such as social status and
Tables 1 and 2 present more comprehensive lists of
indicators that point to areas when gender disaggregated information might
be collected and analyzed.
- Rights granted by written laws;
- Rights granted by other laws – customary, informal,
- Security of the aforementioned rights;
- Implementation and enforcement of rights intended to promote
- Rights women are free to practice – with or without being
granted to them (pressure from family members, religion, culture,
- Women’s access to the court system (e.g., in comparison to
- Women’s access to the local customary decision-making bodies
and their theoretical and real roles in these bodies;
- Social status in the community based on access to land;
- Role in decision making;
- Percentage of male and female population holding secure and
insecure title to land;
Table 1. Indicators for collecting
gender disaggregated information - Legislation and community rules
- Origins of landholdings;
- Inheritance systems;
- Women’s participation in formal and informal land
transactions (and the types of transactions);
- Women’s participation in the housing and land markets (where
and how often);
- Bargaining power;
- Resource allocation within the household;
- Land use patterns – who uses it for what purpose;
- Type of infrastructure female and male-headed households have
- Percentage of women’s landholdings of the total agricultural
- Average size of holdings for men and women;
- Income sources for men and women;
- Percentage of population depending on agriculture for their
- Percentage of women depending on agriculture for their
- Percentage of population depending on home-based activities
for their livelihood;
- Percentage of women depending on home-based activities for
- Size and characteristics of female owner occupied houses;
- Female share of employment in the informal sector;
- Women’s share in formal and informal agricultural labour;
- Proportion of food produced directly by women;
- Proportion of cash-crop produced by women;
- Traditional land related responsibilities;
- The number of female headed households – de facto and
- Percentage of people living in rural and urban areas;
- Percentage of women living in rural and urban areas;
- Percentage of arable land, forest;
- Proportion of individually and communally owned land;
- Access to hired labor;
- Access to creditworthy landparcel.
Table 2. Indicators for collecting
gender disaggregated information - Socio-economic objectives
International aid organizations have been targeting women
for special assistance for decades. The protection and enhancement of
women’s rights to land receives more and more attention in contemporary land
reform and privatization projects. In order to assure that project outcomes
reflect the initial goals and do not have unintended negative impacts on
women, the donor community should take on the following responsibilities:
- Ensure that mechanisms and institutions are in place for discussions,
conflict resolution and negotiations regarding gender issues.
- Advocate national policies requiring the revision of those national
laws and policies that impose constraints on women’s land rights.
- Identify areas in national and customary laws pertinent to women’s
access to and benefits from land and encourage changes to protect women’s
rights to land and its resources.
- Form independent enforcement procedures and monitor its
- Document violations of women’s rights to land.
- Promote the involvement of women in policy- and decision making,
aiming towards equal representation of men and women in these bodies.
- Encourage nations to sign those international declarations that
promote women’s equal status under the law and their equal access to
- Göler von Ravensburg and Jacobsen  suggest that "Development
cooperation can make it a precondition for any intensification of policy
dialogue that international principles and law regarding women’s land
rights be included into national policy and law, make relevant suggestions
in this regard and monitor whether the respective laws are implemented
such that men and women indeed obtain equal status in all land matters."
- Collect gender disaggregated data and make them available for the
research community, practitioners, and the public.
- Urge constitutional recognition of women's rights: such provisions
provide a strong basis for subsequent legislative initiatives or court
- Assist in the development of modern property laws that recognize the
diversity of family and household arrangements, and acknowledges both
modern and traditionally dominant household patterns.
- International donor agencies should pledge that gender perspective
will be fully integrated in all future projects and programmes, as it is
required by for example the UNCHS: "… all terms of reference, programme
structures and activities are defined, designed and developed from a
- Ensure the participation of women in community and family decisions
about land access and management; in local and national government
structures affecting land allocation and land policy implementation; and
in customary or statutory tribunals that address uncertainties and
disputes with respect to land.
The surveying community should not underestimate its role
in allocating, adjudicating, protecting, and changing the way in which
people hold rights to land. In the past the major impact was the size and
shape of land parcels and the general pattern of the parcel fabric. Today,
surveyors also have a role in land reform and promoting security of tenure
in ensuring that the cadastral systems, laws, and procedures put in place
during such reform do not adversely affect the rights of groups and
individuals that the reforms were meant to benefit.
Learning more on how to approach the gender dimension of
such programmes and projects and acquiring the tools necessary to address
them are vital for securing a more equitable outcome. The following section
discusses some of the measures that should be considered by practitioners
working in development of human settlements in both rural and urban
environments. The authors are aware that it may not be possible or practical
to exhaust all of these measures during a project cycle. Also, collecting
gender disaggregated data as well as general information on women and
minorities often prove to be a serious challenge. Recently however, there
has been a significant, although far from sufficient, increase in the number
of sources offering applicable data and information.
Although the special focus of this report is on rural
development, most recommendations are also applicable in urban development
Recognize women as stakeholders. Zwarteveen  emphasizes the
importance of women's informed participation when individuals' access to
water and land is determined. Their active participation throughout the
program - from research to implementation and post project evaluation - is
key if their interest is to be taken into account. This participation also
has to be in a meaningful way. They have to be informed of their rights
and a support system has to be in place to help them defend those rights.
Ensure women's ACTIVE participation in the processes. This
includes ensuring that women in the community affected and on staff are
involved in the project or policy processes, not as an afterthought, but
from planning, to implementation, and to evaluation of the results. This
is not always an easy process and sensitive ways must be found in some
communities to allow women to share their views and experiences openly,
especially with strangers. Another way in which women in the community or
organization can be encouraged to participate is to provide role models,
such as appointing women as key project members and supporting them.
Obtain knowledge of the local situation. For project managers to
know whether women's access to land may be an issue, there is a need for
an adequate pre-project assessment of the situation. The level of detail
and complexity will depend on the local situation and the objectives of
the project. However, if the situation does appear to have issues directly
related to women's rights, then special measures may have to be taken to
understand the potential implications of the project. This can be assisted
by monitoring changes during the project and by obtaining feedback from
women as well as male community leaders before and during the project.
Post-project evaluation (the role of which is too often disregarded or
minimized) is also important for understanding what worked and what did
not and what were the lessons learned.
Provide opportunities for women's rights to be explicitly recognized.
If a land titling, cadastral surveying, land registration, or information
system project is going to document rights to land, then decisions need to
be made as to: what rights will be included? whose names will be
documented and based on what evidence? and how will these names be kept up
to date? In addition there is a need for the decisions made on these
issues to be acceptable to the recipient community to ensure the
sustainability of the systems introduced.
Safeguard and enforce women's rights. Pottier  and others
suggest that women often lose access to certain resources when those
become profitable or receive more attention.
Add the spouse's or partner's name to all legal documents concerning
land rights, including any official register of land rights. For
transactions involving family holdings, consent should be given by the
spouse or partner. This helps to prevent fraud, adds security for the
woman beyond family or legislative recognition (e.g., matrimonial laws),
and helps to ensure that both partners understand what their rights are.
Propose alternative ownership models. There are instances where
combining individual, common, public or group ownership may provide a
better solution for women or groups of women to secure or extend their
existing rights. Under customary regimes women have use rights to their
male relatives land. During privatization programmes they can easily lose
these rights if the land is titled under the name of the male relative
without giving consideration to women's overlapping use rights. Identify
joint ownership interests during registration where applicable.
Establish land administration institutions that are responsive and
accommodating to women as well as men. Efficient, decentralized land
administration agencies are better able to serve the community.
Participatory methodologies and decision-making structures can provide
opportunities for inclusion.
Simplify registration procedures. Women, especially poor women
and female heads of households are often unable to comply with excessive
documentation requirements. They are also unlikely to represent their
interests effectively and in a timely manner required in procedures
designed with a bias toward the more affluent segments of society.
Support women in land administration organizations. In major
internationally funded projects, women employees often do not have the
same access to opportunities on the project. Yet these women may be able
to help foreign project members and recipient organization staff to better
understand the issues related to women's access to land locally. They may
also be a communication bridge to the community's women. Projects can also
enhance women's sustained participation in a land project through
education and training. The Swedish International Development Agency, for
example, has required that 50% of all participants in cadastral training
and education projects abroad be women.
Consider that women have limited access to financial resources.
Any procedures requiring financial compensation should be carefully
examined not to present an additional burden for women and exclude them
from the benefits of the project. Where financial support is available to
subsidize administrative costs, women with insufficient means should
receive priority during fund distribution.
Ensure effective access through other support. Providing equity
is not enough. To be effective, access to land must also include access to
other resources (such as financing, technology, and training) and to
required support systems (e.g., water, roads, marketing co-operatives).
Without these resources and support, the projects may leave nothing but
paper titles behind.
Share awareness of the issues and their complexity. Just being aware
that there may be some potential issues is a long step forward. This
will help project managers, task managers, and other participants in
policy formation or project design understand that they need to be
sensitive to potential impacts. Awareness of the complications in what may
have seemed to be a straight forward surveying project, may help
professionals decide whether or not people with specialized expertise may
be necessary. It is also important that surveyors share this awareness
with their staff and others involved in the projects.
Document lessons learned and best practices. Obtaining relevant
and reliable information regarding the situation of women is often
difficult. For that reason, sharing information and experiences within the
surveying community has enormous significance.
Be aware of women's daily schedules. Plan meetings and information
sessions during that part of the day when women are able to attend.
Accommodate women's request in terms of timing and location. Women are
seldom able to visit geographically remote areas for the purpose of
- Disseminate information in a way that is comprehensible by women.
It should be taken into consideration that the illiteracy rate is much
higher among women than men. Adoption of training and advisory materials
for the non-literate population is essential. Employ those forms of media
that reach women in rural areas and in poorer districts of cities.
- Explain the rights and obligations associated with holding title to
land. Women should feel comfortable about being title holders. They
should understand the rights, responsibilities and opportunities granting
title to land carries and the potential changes and consequences this may
bring in terms of their status (i.e. fees to be paid during transaction,
possible tension with male relatives, etc.)
- Discuss the meanings of land administration terms with women.
For instance, women's understanding of the term security of tenure or
ownership can be greatly different from what men think. This should be
within a non-threatening environment where women are not afraid to ask
- Consult those women directly who will be affected by the program
outcomes. More and more accurate information can be gathered as to the
priorities and interests of women when they are asked directly.
- Ensure that there is a two-way communication mechanism in place
between women and surveyors. Women's experience and knowledge should
be part of the initial community assessment. Facts pertinent to the
project should be communicated to women by development professionals and
women must have opportunity to voice their concerns without being
intimidated. Religious and customary laws governing the interactions
between women and "outsiders" must be understood before the project, be
adhered to, and worked around (e.g., by employing women to conduct the
- Include women among surveying professionals working with local
communities. Female professionals might be able to establish
connection with women's groups in communities where religious or cultural
customs prohibit social contact between the sexes or when women are not
allowed to speak publicly in the presence of their husbands. It is however
equally important that female professionals responsible for these tasks
have a good understanding of the gender dimensions of the project, the
local situation and are willing and able to undertake these assignments.
- Support women's membership in land management bodies at all levels:
from national to local levels and also in formal as well as in informal
Analyze decision-making patterns within domestic units. It is
often the male head of the domestic unit who is viewed as the decision maker
and it may be so. Research has shown that the male decision maker does not
necessarily represent the interest of the women and children in the domestic
unit. Receiving independent input from women is essential when a project may
affect their well-being.
Recognize the different needs of different women. All women are
not equal. Women who are economically in a better position have different
interests than poor women, and their participation and input do not replace
poor women's participation and input. Instead, it represents another
segment. Special attention need to be given to the situation of divorcees,
female heads of households and widows.
- Identify rural institutions in charge of the implementation of
customary rules. One of the important elements in the project or
programme may be an interdisciplinary approach. Surveyors are not
sociologists or anthropologist, nor micro finance experts. Part of any
successful project is knowing when to bring in the experts.
- Oversee the legitimacy of women's land claims. Women's access
to resources can only be sustainable if it is viewed by the community -
both men and women - as legitimate. Projects should strive to allocate
resources equitably and strive to ensure acceptance by the members of the
- Investigate what rights - in what areas (inheritance, divorce,
property rights, family law etc.) are upheld in the event of
controversy between written and customary laws. Once again experts
(lawyers and others) can provide project managers with a better
understanding of the issues, the status of the law, and any
- Acknowledge when there is a problem regarding women's unequal
access to land and associated resources. Women's lack of access or
insecure access to housing and productive resources are not always
transparent and customary tenure systems vary from place to place and even
in time as the social and economic fabric of rural communities are subject
to transformation and modernization. Bringing the issue to the attention
of appropriate authorities may not always be popular but may be considered
part of a surveyor's code of ethics.
Providing secure and effective access to land for women
can benefit families, communities, and nations through, for example:
- increased economic opportunities;
- increased investment in land and food production;
- improved family security during economic and social transitions; and
- better land stewardship.
However, these benefits can only be fully realised if the
strategies adopted for improving women's access to land work in practice and
if decision-makers and project teams are aware of those strategies that do
and do not work. They need to know about the quality and distribution of
rights in land, the economic and cultural impediments that limit women's
effective and secure access to land, and the benefits that can be achieved
by enhancing women's access. They also need to know what options for
improving equitable access to land exist and be able to evaluate the full
range of implications of these options.
Surveyors have an impact on land tenure systems
worldwide. This implies that the profession also has a special
responsibility to society. As the land tenure issues grow increasingly
complex and become more diverse, the profession has a responsibility to know
more about the issues and to do more to ensure that the systems for
administering property rights serve all societies well.
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