Printer-friendly versionSend by emailPDF version


Gender, Traditional Authority, and the Politics of Rural Reform in South Africa


Rangan, Haripriya, and Mary Gilmartin. 2008. “Gender, Traditional Authority, and the Politics of Rural Reform in South Africa.” Development and Change 33 (4): 633-658.

Authors: Haripriya Rangan, Mary Gilmartin


The new South African Constitution, together with later policies and legislation, affirm a commitment to gender rights that is incompatible with the formal recognition afforded to unelected traditional authorities. This contradiction is particularly evident in the case of land reform in many rural areas, where women's right of access to land is denied through the practice of customary law. This article illustrates the ways in which these constitutional contradictions play out with particular intensity in the 'former homelands' through the example of a conflict over land use in Buffelspruit, Mpumalanga province. There, a number of women who had been granted informal access to communal land for the purposes of subsistence cultivation had their rights revoked by the traditional authority. Despite desperate protests, they continue to be marginalized in terms of access to land, while their male counterparts appropriate communal land for commercial farming and cattle grazing. Drawing on this protest, we argue that current South African practice in relation to the pressing issue of gender equity in land reform represents a politics of accommodation and evasion that tends to reinforce gender biases in rural development, and in so doing, undermines the prospects for genuinely radical transformation of the instituted geographies and institutionalized practices bequeathed by the apartheid regime.


Keywords: women's land rights, customary law, gender inequality, informal access to communal land, New South African Constitution


  • Examines the key contradictions emerging from the post-apartheid Constitution's delineation of traditional authority, customary law, gender rights, and democratic governance, and shows how these `constitutional contradictions' have turned former Bantustans (spaces of concentrated settlement for the majority of ethnic African populations) into terrains of contention regarding issues of control over land allocation, the location of competing land-uses, and the validity of customary practices.
  • Contradictions: 1) new Constitution has formally abolished homelands and Bantustans, but continues to protect the status of “traditional” authorities who were appointed to exercise control within these jurisdictions; 2) while post-apartheid constitution protects status of traditional authorities, also enshrines Dem. Bill of Rights based on governance through elected officials; 3) while the Constitution accords equal rights to women and men, it simultaneously endorses the exercise of traditional customary law in former Bantustan areas. Rangan et al. argues that gender equity and land reform is viewed too often as a social issue, seen as “a social restructuring in space” rather than a process of reshaping `instituted geographies’. The article emphasizes the “geographic dimensions” of gender equity.
  • These geographical dimensions are crucial because they not only reveal the ways in which institutions and institutionalized practices shape class and gendered access to land-based resources, but also indicate how changes to existing modes of access might affect the livelihood abilities and social well-being of women and men in rural communities.The reconstruction and development program initiated in 1994 the RDP identified land and agrarian reform as the most important issue facing the country and sought to address the subject of women's rights to land through intense national debate.


“Despite these efforts with legislation and policy, there appears to have been very little positive advancement of gender rights and land reform in post-apartheid South Africa…Tenure insecurity for women-headed households in rural areas has grown worse since the enactment of interim legislation in 1994 to protect informal land right.”(635)

“The problems emerge in large part because most development theorists and policy-makers are unable to recognize the fact that the process of linking gender equity with land reform involves bringing together two distinctive kinds of geographical agendas to make a single and complex geographic project.” (636)

"Gender equity is fundamentally a geographic initiative that seeks to redefine institutionalized relationships and customary practices of everyday life in communities, but the only way in which the post-apartheid government has dealt with the geographic dimensions of such processes is through the technocratic jargon of `decentralization' and `devolution' to local governments. While such terms may imply support for `community control' or `grassroots democracy', they do not indicate how devolution and decentralization will address issues of gender equity at the regional and local levels alongside the prevalence of traditional authority and customary law.”(654)

Topics: Gender, Women, Gender Equity, Governance, Constitutions, Livelihoods, Rights, Land Rights, Women's Rights Regions: Africa, Southern Africa Countries: South Africa

Year: 2008

Love in the Time of Cholera: LGBT Rights in Colombia


Ripoll, Julieta. 2009. "Love in the Time of Cholera: LGBT Rights in Colombia." International Journal on Human Rights 6 (11): 73-89.

Author: Julieta Ripoll


In a recent hearing before the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights, human rights activists denounced the violence in Colombia besetting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transvestite, transsexual and transgendered individuals (LGBT). Amongst the problems enumerated were abuse of police power, sexual violence in the prisons, murders fueled by hate, as well as several kinds of discrimination. This contrasts with the jurisprudence of the Constitutional Court, where there has been advancement in the protection of individuals’ sexual rights. This article, which describes both the violence as well as the Court’s sentencing, analyzes the symbolic role of the law and argues that these activists have an ambivalent relationship with the law: while wary of it, for its inefficacy, they mobilize for legal reform and benefit from the Court’s progressive jurisprudence.

Keywords: homosexuality, human rights

Topics: Governance, Constitutions, LGBTQ, Rights, Human Rights, Sexual Violence, Sexuality Regions: Americas, South America Countries: Colombia

Year: 2009

Between the Hammer and the Anvil: Post-Conflict Reconstruction, Islam and Women's Rights


Kandiyoti, Deniz. 2007. "Between the Hammer and the Anvil: Post-Conflict Reconstruction, Islam and Women's Rights." Third World Quarterly 28 (3): 503-17.

Author: Deniz Kandiyoti


This paper argues that gender issues are becoming politicized in novel and counterproductive ways in contexts where armed interventions usher in new blueprints for governance and 'democratization'. Using illustrations from constitutional and electoral processes in Afghanistan and Iraq, it analyses how the nature of emerging political settlements in environments of high risk and insecurity may jeopardize stated international commitments to a women's rights agenda. The disjuncture between stated aims and observed outcomes becomes particularly acute in contexts where security and the rule of law are severely compromised, where Islam becomes a stake in power struggles among contending factions and where ethnic/sectarian constituencies struggles of representation in defense of their collective rights.

Keywords: post-conflict reconstruction, women's political participation, governance, Islam, women's rights


  • Since the September 11 attacks and the US’ subsequent invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan, there have been various political efforts to incorporate women’s rights into the reconstruction agendas of Iraq and Afghanistan; however, in the absence of stable government systems, the realization of these rights has been difficult. In Afghanistan, a new Constitution was drafted in 2004 that advocated the political representation of women. These efforts at gender equality have been undermined, however, by documents such as Article 3 of the Constitution entitled “Islam and Constitutionality,” which demands that all governmental laws abide by the laws of Islam.
  • In Iraq, the situation of women deteriorated in the years following the 1980-88 Iran-Iran War and the subsequent invasion of Kuwait. Following the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003, the country underwent a process of Islamization, which delegitimized the efforts of various Iraqi women’s rights groups. Sectarian strife also poses a barrier to the inclusion of women in the political processes in both Afghanistan and Iraq. In Afghanistan, women generally affiliate themselves with ethnic and political constituencies, which divides them from one another, preventing them from uniting for a common women’s rights cause. In Iraq, despite the quota promoting women’s participation in politics, most women identify as Shiites, the more conservative of Islam’s factions. Kandiyoti also argues that compounded with the conservative Muslim religion, the war economies of Iraq and Afghanistan have exacerbated gender-based violence.
  • Kandiyoti proceeds to address the reasons for violations of women’s rights in Afghanistan, attributing the poor situation of women to a combination of poverty, displacement, and the drug economy. During the civil war following the emergence of the Taliban in 1994, human rights violations, including crimes against women, were rampant. The Taliban imposed laws the limited the freedoms of women, including a conservative dress code and a curfew. Because of the poverty that defined the post-conflict period in Afghanistan, many men resorted to female trafficking as a source of income and sexual violence as an outlet for economic-related stress.
  • Kandiyoti concludes by stressing that the women’s rights agenda that accompanies post-conflict reconstruction efforts faces major hurdles. Prolonged conflict has also brought about social changes in Afghanistan and Iraq that force women to combat the threat from conservative social forces while also fighting for their rights.

Topics: Democracy / Democratization, Gender, Women, Governance, Constitutions, Elections, Post-conflict Governance, Peacebuilding, Peacekeeping, Post-Conflict, Post-Conflict Reconstruction, Religion, Rights, Women's Rights Regions: Africa, MENA, Asia, South Asia Countries: Afghanistan, Iraq

Year: 2007

Gay Rights in Uganda: Seeking to Overturn Uganda's Anti-Sodomy Laws


Hollander, Michael. 2009. "Gay Rights in Uganda: Seeking to Overturn Uganda's Anti-Sodomy Laws." Virginia Journal of International Law 50: 219-66.

Author: Michael Hollander


Sections of the Ugandan Penal Code criminalizing sodomy were imposed during colonial rule, but have been fully integrated into Ugandan social norms and culture.  This article argues for a national and international framework that together might lead to the repeal of discriminatory legislation.  However, it cautions that changes to the law must be coupled with changes in the cultural, public, and religious perceptions of homosexuality which are deeply entrenched at this time.

This essay presents a comprehensive legal argument for overturning the anti-sodomy laws (as documented in Sections 145, 146, and 148 of the Uganda Penal Code Act) that have been adopted by the Ugandan government during the post-colonial era. Hollander uses “both a national constitutional framework and an international framework that includes treaties, other international agreements, and a developing international consensus that persecution of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex (LGBTI) individuals is a human rights violation” in presenting his argument.

Keywords: human rights, law

Topics: Gender, Gendered Power Relations, Gender Hierarchies, Governance, Constitutions, International Law, LGBTQ, Religion, Rights, Human Rights, Sexuality Regions: Africa, East Africa Countries: Uganda

Year: 2009


© 2020 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

Subscribe to RSS - Constitutions