Ahead of the Game: Land Tenure Reform in Rwanda and the Process of Securing Women’s Land Rights


Daley, Elizabeth, Rachel Dore-Weeks, and Claudine Umuhoza. 2010. “Ahead of the Game: Land Tenure Reform in Rwanda and the Process of Securing Women’s Land Rights.” Journal of Eastern African Studies 4 (1): 131-52.

Authors: Elizabeth Daley, Rachel Dore-Weeks, Claudine Umohoza


The Rwandan Constitution of 2003, the National Land Policy of 2004 and the Organic Land Law of 2005 all contain clear provisions which add up to a mandate for gender equality in land rights and set out a context in which all land shall be registered and rights gained under different means of access to land shall be considered equal. The Rwandan Succession Law of 1999 had already established the principle of equal inheritance rights to land for men and women. Articles from these four core documents together comprise the new body of land policy and law in Rwanda which is currently in the process of being implemented. This paper argues that an iterative approach to planning for the implementation of land tenure reform in Rwanda over a long period of research and consultations, including field consultations and subsequent “trial interventions”, and involving both government and civil society, has enabled the issue of how to secure women's land rights to be more fully considered within the overall land tenure reform process. This comes in a country with particular and unique post-Genocide circumstances that enabled women to gain their new land inheritance rights on paper early on. Evidence gathered by the authors suggests that these paper rights are already beginning to affect social relations and land inheritance patterns in practice. Moreover, women's land rights retain a prominence on the political agenda in Rwanda, positing an “enabling” environment for some crucial articles in the secondary legislation required for implementation to be drafted.

Keywords: land tenure reform, gender equality, succession law, organic land law


  • The article puts forward a very different view (as compared to Pottier’s) of the effectiveness of the 2005 Land Law  in strengthening and securing the land rights of women.
  • The article discussions the issue of awareness, which is extremely important in research on gender and land rights because even with the passing of new state laws meant to increase tenure security for women, it is very difficult to ensure these laws are implemented without people being aware that they exist or knowledgeable about what they contain.


“women and orphan (children) household heads were inheriting land on a scale not previously known in Rwandan history, where the norm has been for men to head families and hold responsibility for family land” (132)

“Simultaneously, women were becoming increasingly important in public life, in part by default but also through a determined effort on the part of the new government to support gender equality in the ‘‘new’’ Rwanda. The implications of this for women’s property rights have been huge. As Powley puts it: ‘‘The success of women parliamentarians—working in close concert with the Women’s Ministry and women’s civil society organizations  in advocating for women’s right to inherit cannot be understated.”(132)

“firmly established gender equality in land inheritance and in property ownership within the majority of marriages and thus formed a first legal step in countering women’s historical separation from the ownership of land”(132) 

“found that a number of identifiable positive trends have emerged during the decade which began with the passing of the Succession Law that promise long term change in both land and gender relations”(133)

“new body of land policy and law has applied a radically progressive legal framework to women’s property rights and has provided a solid legal basis for the drafting of some crucial aspects of the secondary legislation to protect and secure women’s land ownership rights”(133)

“Whether or not a woman was permitted to remain on the marital property in the event of separation or widowhood was highly dependent on the extent to which she conformed to socially-constructed gendered norms. Widows were expected to abide by the norms of the ‘‘grieving widow’’, which demanded abstinence or levirate marriage, and where a woman remained within such pre-defined spheres of acceptable behaviour, she was able to control her land without fear of expulsion. However, a widow who did not obey these customs would be chased from the marital home and land, often for alleged promiscuity.”(137)

“Many Rwandan women have not been able to benefit from the provisions of the Succession Law as it does not apply retrospectively. However, positive signs of change are evident throughout Rwanda that its provisions are increasingly being applied in the case of young women getting married or taking part in the family distribution of  iminani (shares), and in the case of those who have been widowed since 1999." (137)

“In the rural areas, although local authorities and Abunzi (grassroots mediators) were generally better informed than other people, they had largely not read the new laws nor did they appear to have a clear understanding of what these required in practical terms. They also lacked training in how to use the new laws to deal with local land cases and instead appeared to rely primarily on their own common sense and understanding of customary practices to deal with land cases, the results of which meant that women were not always achieving their equal paper rights to land in practice.” (139)

Topics: Gender, Women, Gender Equality/Inequality, Land Tenure, Rights, Land Rights, Women's Rights Regions: Africa, Central Africa, East Africa Countries: Rwanda

Year: 2010

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