The Failure of Popular Justice in Uganda: Local Councils and Women’s Property Rights


Khadiagala, Lynn. 2001.”The Failure of Popular Justice in Uganda: Local Councils and Women’s Property Rights.” Development and Change 32: 55-76.

Author: Lynn Khadiagala


Advocates of alternative dispute resolution argue that informal, community-based institutions are better placed to provide inexpensive, expedient and culturally appropriate forms of justice. In 1988, the Ugandan government extended judicial capacity to local councils (LCs) on similar grounds. Drawing on attempts by women in southwestern Uganda to use the LCs to adjudicate property disputes, this article investigates why popular justice has failed to protect the customary property rights of women. The gap between theory and practice arises out of misconceptions of community. The tendency to ascribe a morality and autonomy to local spaces obscures the ability of elites to use informal institutions for purposes of social control. In the light of women's attempts to escape the 'rule of persons' and to seek out arbiters whom they associate with the 'rule of law', it can be argued that the utility of the state to ordinary Ugandans should be reconsidered.

Keywords: local councils, customary law, informal institutions, gender inequality, Property Rights, women's rights


  • The article finds that in the adjudication process, increasing emphasis is being placed on the social role of women, which has impacted the information considered relevant in land claims adjudication. Successful claims by women are often tied to community relations and the fulfillment of social obligations to husbands, kin and family members.

Topics: Gender, Women, Gender Roles, Gendered Power Relations, Gender Equality/Inequality, Justice, International Tribunals & Special Courts, Rights, Property Rights, Women's Rights Regions: Africa, East Africa Countries: Uganda

Year: 2001

© 2024 CONSORTIUM ON GENDER, SECURITY & HUMAN RIGHTSLEGAL STATEMENT All photographs used on this site, and any materials posted on it, are the property of their respective owners, and are used by permission. Photographs: The images used on the site may not be downloaded, used, or reproduced in any way without the permission of the owner of the image. Materials: Visitors to the site are welcome to peruse the materials posted for their own research or for educational purposes. These materials, whether the property of the Consortium or of another, may only be reproduced with the permission of the owner of the material. This website contains copyrighted materials. The Consortium believes that any use of copyrighted material on this site is both permissive and in accordance with the Fair Use doctrine of 17 U.S.C. § 107. If, however, you believe that your intellectual property rights have been violated, please contact the Consortium at