Gender Equality and Land Administration: The Case of Zambia


Spichiger, Rachel, and Edna Kabala. 2014. “Gender Equality and Land Administration: The Case of Zambia.” DIIS Working Paper 4, Danish Institute for International Studies (DIIS), Copenhagen.

Authors: Rachel Spichiger, Edna Kabala


Land, and in particular agricultural land, is central to livelihoods in rural Zambia. Zambia is characterised by a dual legal system of customary and statutory law and by dual land tenure, with state land and customary land. A first wave of socialist-oriented reforms took place after independence in 1964, which abolished previously existing freehold land in favour of lease-hold. Subsequent changes in government policies under the influence of structural adjustment programmes and a new government in 1991 paved the way for a market-driven land reform. The 1995 Lands Act introduced the privatization of land in Zambia and provided for the conversion of customary into state land, with the hope of attracting investors. However, the Act has been unevenly implemented, at least in rural areas, in part due to problems plaguing the land administration institutions and their work, in part due to opposition to the main tenets of the Act from chiefs, the population and civil society. Civil society, with donor support, calls for more attention towards women’s precarious situations with regard to access to and ownership of land under customary tenure, but it still expresses a desire for customary tenure to remain. However, civil society also recognizes that customary practices are often also discriminatory towards women who depend on male relatives for access to land.
A gender policy, passed in 2000, and two subsequent draft land policies tried to address women’s lack of access to land by stipulating that 30% of the land should be allocated to women. What has been the role of donors in these developments? Both on the government’s side and for civil society, NGOs and donor agencies, gender has increasingly come to the fore. Donors have certainly pushed for policies and changes in legislation. In particular, the recent Anti Gender-Based Violence Act has been hailed as a huge step for gender equality, and was heavily supported by donors. The land sector, however, does not receive much donor support. While it is notable that donors (e.g. USAID and the World Bank) supported the process leading to the 1995 Lands Act, no donor supported gender issues within that sector in that period. Some donors do take issues related to women’s access to land into account within their agricultural programmes or through their work on democracy and governance, however. Over the last five years, several programmes implemented by NGOs (national and international) and civil-society organisations have focused entirely on women’s land rights. Despite registering some positive outcomes, especially in areas of knowledge and capacity-building, these programmes have met some challenges. Apart from technical and financial issues, it was observed that changes with regard to land tenure are slow to be institutionalised, if at all, and that mechanisms to enhance the accountability of land administrators on both customary and state land are lacking. These initiatives are taking place against a changing background, as Zambia is now at an important juncture at the policy and legal levels, with attempts to codify customary law and to take steps to strengthen tenure security on customary land. How and when this will be done, and how this codified customary law will be enforced, as well as what impact it will have on women remains to be seen. What is also uncertain is what impact this will have on current policies that are under review (e.g. gender and land policies) and the direction that will be taken with regard to issues of tenure security for women living under customary tenure. Whether and, if so, to what extent donors will adopt a defining role in these coming endeavours is not yet clear, especially in a changing aid landscape, since several donor agencies have now withdrawn from Zambia. 

Topics: Civil Society, Gender, Gendered Power Relations, Gender Equality/Inequality, Governance, Livelihoods, NGOs, Rights, Land Rights Regions: Africa, Southern Africa Countries: Zambia

Year: 2014

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