Gender and Land Reform: The Zimbabwe Experience


Goebel, Allison. 2005. Gender and Land Reform: The Zimbabwe Experience. Montreal, Canada: McGill-Queen’s University Press.

Author: Allison Goebel


Zimbabwe's nationalist and post-colonial ambitions have been largely defined by land reform. Allison Goebel assesses Zimbabwe's successes and failures in incorporating gender issues into the broader project of land redistribution. Based on fieldwork in the Sengezi resettlement area in east central Zimbabwe in the late 1990s and 2002, Gender and Land Reform situates gender within the larger issues of race, class, and international political economy. Goebel examines the social forces and effects of the resettlement process, including state policy and legislation, customary norms and practices, local institutions, and ideologies and cosmologies. Her study emphasizes the strategic choices women make in new institutional and household contexts and considers the interests of poor women who have been marginalized within the land reform process. (Abstract from book description)



“However, as this article will show, the hotly debated negotiations of women’s status and gender relations are part and parcel of current debates and practices regarding land reform, both at the level of state discourse, laws and policies, and at the level of communities and households in rural areas. Further, negotiations of gender parallel and are linked with other post-colonial negotiations of power along race and class lines.” (146)

“Women, particularly rural peasant women, form another group subject to certain types of exclusion, which have been accompanied by gender-specific discursive justification. This paper attempts to unravel the nature of this exclusion by examining the implications for rural women and gender in the evolving land reform process. I look specifically at (1) the emerging opportunities and constraints for small-scale women farmers of ‘fast track’ and beyond particularly as represented by state policy and practice, (2) the role of traditional authorities and the re-emergence of ‘culture’ in land allocation and administration and (3) the inter-relationships between these two. I apply a feminist materialist perspective, but as informed by post-structuralist feminist analysis to these interrelationships. This analysis interrogates the nature and role of the state as agent of gender transformation, the importance of discourses and flows of power at and between the locations of households, communities and the state and its local agents, while at the same time flagging the crucial material underpinnings of rural women’s position and opportunities, especially as they relate to arable land. Through this analysis, important contours of cultural transformation in a case of post-colonial economic and political change are revealed. First, however, details of the land crisis are outlined.” (147)

“Zimbabwe’s land reform process has so far had contradictory effects for women.” (152)

“The tenuousness of women’s relationship to resettlement land must also be understood through the lens of culture and ritual, particularly through the ways in which ‘tradition’ is being deployed in the resettlement context. Chiefs have no formal authority in the resettlement areas of the 1980s and 1990s and these areas do not have local institutions associated with tradition, such as headmen. Also, resettlement villages are not arranged according to lineage groups. Nevertheless, aspects of traditional culture such as family ancestor appeasement and bringing home the dead (kurova gova) are commonly practised. These practices enact and express a cosmology that understands the environs as populated by and under the care of ancestral spirits. The practices also reinforce patrilineal control of land and hence distance women from the possibility of controlling land in their own right.” (153)

“The promotion of women’s rights to land therefore cannot be only a political project of the state (e.g. a question of resettlement policy and laws), but must incorporate the insight that such a promotion is a profound challenge to a living cultural tradition that understands land and the environment as a key element of hegemonic masculinity and patriarchy. “ (154)

“Regrettably, there is little fieldwork-based evidence to draw on to tell us about the experience of women since 1998.” (156)

“The Zimbabwean experience indicates the centrality of the conflict between African customary practice and a modern rights-based legal framework in relation to women’s land rights. While the Zimbabwean government clearly has not been as committed to the inclusion of equality rights for women as the South African state appears to be, both states face a similar post-colonial challenge. They are both attempting to forge a nationalist land reform process from within a colonial legacy of a dual legal system and historical race-based injustice, in a contemporary context within which ‘tradition’ and ‘culture’ play central roles in how many men struggle for identity and power. Meanwhile, many women demand equal rights and opportunities, utilizing a modern understanding of equality rights.” (159)

Topics: Class, Coloniality/Post-Coloniality, Economies, Poverty, Gender, Women, Governance, Households, Livelihoods, Political Economies, Race, Rights, Land Rights, Property Rights, Women's Rights Regions: Africa, Southern Africa Countries: Zimbabwe

Year: 2005

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