Political Economies

Policy Discourses on Women’s Land Rights in Sub-Saharan Africa: The Implications of the Re-turn to the Customary


Whitehead, Ann, and Dzodzi Tsikata. 2003. “Policy Discourses on Women’s Land Rights in Sub-Saharan Africa: The Implications of the Re-turn to the Customary.” Journal of Agrarian Change 3 (1-2): 67-112.

Authors: Ann Whitehead, Dzodzi Tsikata

Keywords: customary law, land tenure reform, women's land interests, legal pluralism


  • This article is unique in that it approaches legal pluralism and customary law from the perspective of women’s movements fighting for increased tenure security for women. The focus on women’s movements allows the authors to present divergent views of the utility of customary law and critiques of its ability to advance the interests of women.  
  • Authors argue customary ownership has been eroded since the time of colonialism, “making women's access to land significantly more precarious as the protections traditionally ensured by the clan system have been peeled away." (2) 
  • With increased commercialization of land and problems of land scarcity, local leaders have felt pressure to protect the clan system, and in so doing have placed even greater constraints on women's access to land. The article outlines the strategies women have used to respond to the growing interest in preserving customary laws, including land alliances and coalitions.
  • Discusses the amendments to the Ugandan Land Law in 2000 and how women’s movements were not successful in their push to include a co-ownership clause in the law. This clause was necessary because current legislation provides limited opportunities for women to own land, but was omitted at the last second: “Thus under customary law, which prevails in Uganda, a woman may have jointly acquired land with her husband and may have spent her entire adult life cultivating the land, but she cannot claim ownership of the property. If he dies, the land generally goes to the sons, but may also be left to daughters. Nevertheless, he may still leave the wife with no land and therefore no source of subsistence." (6)
  • Other strategies used: purchase of land, obtaining titles to land, taking claims to courts, and organized collective protest around legislation.


“Rather than seeing customary land practices as a basis on which to improve women’s access to land, they are advocating for rights-based systems that improve women’s ability to buy, own, sell, and obtain titles on land." (2)

“Because women's ties to land are mediated by their relationship to men in patrilineal societies, women's attempts to assert their rights in ways that challenge customary land tenure systems is often perceived as an attempt to disrupt gender relations, and society more generally." (2)

“Women, both rural and urban, have responded to the renewed interest in protecting customary laws and practices through collective strategies, which in Uganda have included a movement to ensure women's access to and ownership of land. Women have also adopted individual strategies of purchasing land and taking their land disputes to court. Purchasing land has, in effect, become a way of circumventing the traditional authorities." (2)

“Heightened protection of customary land tenure arrangements has taken place in a context where the customary and religious laws and practices that have been retained have selectively preserved those elements that subordinate women. These arrangements have included customary divorce and inheritance practices, keeping women as minors (e.g., Swaziland, Lesotho, Zimbabwe), bridewealth, widow inheritance (levirate), dehumanizing rituals pertaining to widows, early childhood marriage, polygamy, and female genital cutting." (3)

Topics: Civil Society, Clan, Coloniality/Post-Coloniality, Gender, Women, Gendered Power Relations, Patriarchy, Gender Equality/Inequality, Land Tenure, Governance, Households, Political Economies, Rights, Land Rights, Property Rights, Women's Rights Regions: Africa

Year: 2003

Bananas, Beaches and Bases: Making Feminist Sense of International Politics


Enloe, Cynthia. 2000. Bananas, Beaches and Bases: Making Feminist Sense of International PoliticsBerkeley: University of California.

Author: Cynthia Enloe

Topics: Feminisms, Gender, Political Economies, Political Participation

Year: 2000

Product and Producer of Palestinian History: Stereotypes of 'Self' in Camp Women's Life Stories


Sayigh, Rosemary. 2007. "Product and Producer of Palestinian History: Stereotypes of 'Self' in Camp Women's Life Stories." Journal of Middle East Women's Studies 3 (1): 86-105.

Author: Rosemary Sayigh


This paper examines representations of “self” embodied in the life histories of women members of a Palestinian refugee camp community in Lebanon. Stereotypes of “self” are inherently ambivalent (Guttman 1988) as sites of both subjection and resistance. This ambivalence is strongly exemplified around the Palestinian refugee identity (to submit or to resist?); and again, though in different terms, for women members of refugee communities. (In camps, gender conservatism was multi-sourced, forming a link with Palestine, a boundary differentiating Palestinians from the “host” population, and resistance to coercive change.) The Palestinian resistance movement, like other twentieth-century anti-colonialist national movements, rigidified gender “tradition” as a key element of cultural nationalism, while political and economic mobilization gave women new scope for action and for “voice.” The life stories of women of Shatila camp, recorded soon after its destruction during the “Battle of the Camps” (1995–98), reveal “self” stereotypes that express historic continuity with Palestine as well as the specificity of Lebanon as diaspora region, characterized by PLO autonomy from 1970 to 1982, and high levels of violence against camp Palestinians in particular. Analysis of the “self” stereo types (and of their absence) points to a “collectivization” of personal narratives, as well as factors such as social status, age, educational level and degree of patriotism that differentiate the speakers in terms of presentation of the “self” and narrative coherence. Clear challenges to gender ideology are present in two of the life stories.

Keywords: refugee, refugee camp, gender relations, resistance movement

Topics: Displacement & Migration, Refugees, Refugee/IDP Camps, Gender, Women, Nationalism, Political Economies, Violence Regions: MENA, Asia, Middle East Countries: Lebanon, Palestine / Occupied Palestinian Territories

Year: 2007

‘This is the Time to Get in Front’: Changing Roles and Opportunities for Women in Liberia


Fuest, Veronika. 2008. "‘This is the Time to Get in Front’: Changing Roles and Opportunities for Women in Liberia." African Affairs 107 (427): 201-24. doi: 10.1093/afraf/adn003.

Author: Veronika Fuest


Most research on women in war focuses on female losses. This article demonstrates that wars may also bring gains. The scope of political and economic roles that Liberian women perform today appears to be larger than before the war. Both individually and collectively, certain women have gainfully used openings the war provided them. The article discusses the historicity of Liberian gender roles, examining the social subgroups of politicians, businesswomen, women's organizations, employees, and school girls. Changes have also been fostered by the international peace-building and development business. Although the realization of female ambitions seems to be constrained by various institutional and economic factors, Liberia may harbour a unique potential for sustainable shifts in gender roles.

Topics: Gender, Women, Gender Roles, Political Economies, Post-Conflict Regions: Africa, West Africa Countries: Liberia

Year: 2008


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