On the Edge of the Law: Women’s Property Rights and Dispute Resolution in Kisii, Kenya


Henrysson, Elin, and Sandra F. Joireman. 2010. “On the Edge of the Law: Women’s Property Rights and Dispute Resolution in Kisii, Kenya.” Law and Society Review 43 (1): 39-60.

Authors: Elin Henrysson, Sandra F. Joireman


Scholars have argued that economic efficiency requires a clear definition of the rights of ownership, contract, and transfer of land. Ambiguity in the definition or enforcement of any of these rights leads to an increase in transaction costs in the exchange and transfer of land as well as a residual uncertainty after any land contract. In Kenya, government efforts at establishing clearly defined property rights and adjudication mechanisms have been plagued by the existence of alternative processes for the adjudication of disputes. Customary dispute resolution has been praised as an inexpensive alternative to official judicial processes in a legally pluralistic environment. However, our research demonstrates that customary processes may also carry a monetary cost that puts them beyond the means of many citizens. This article compares the costs and processes of the formal and informal methods of property rights adjudication for women in the Kisii region of Kenya. The research results suggest that women have weak property rights overall, they have limited access to formal dispute resolution systems because of costs involved, and even the informal systems of conflict resolution are beyond the means of many citizens.

Keywords: Property Rights, gender inequality, rights of ownership, customary law, formal and informal dispute settlements

Topics: Conflict Prevention, Economies, Gender, Women, Gendered Power Relations, Gender Equality/Inequality, Rights, Land Rights, Property Rights, Women's Rights Regions: Africa, East Africa Countries: Kenya

Year: 2010

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