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Property Rights

The Cry for Land: Agrarian Reform, Gender and Land Rights in Uzbekistan


Kandiyoti, Deniz. 2003. “The Cry for Land: Agrarian Reform, Gender and Land Rights in Uzbekistan.” Journal of Agrarian Change 3 (1-2): 225-56.

Author: Deniz Kandiyoti


Agrarian reform in Uzbekistan has been informed by contradictory objectives and priorities. Legislation has oscillated between measures to increase private access to land, in line with populist pressures and the structural reform agenda of international agencies, and counter–measures to tighten and restrict such access in response to the Government imperative of retaining control over the production and export earnings of cotton. Drawing on fieldwork carried out in the provinces of Andijan and Khorezm in 2000–1, this article analyses the role of gendered divisions of labour in the maintenance of a commercial cotton sector alongside a smallholder economy that has become the mainstay of rural livelihoods since the post–Soviet collapse of public sector employment and wages. It also discusses the outcomes of different types of farm restructuring and highlights the gender differentiated outcomes of a reform process that forces a growing number of women out of the recorded labour force into casual, unremunerated and informal work.

Keywords: post-Soviet reform, farm reconstruction, gender

Topics: Economies, Gender, Women, Gendered Power Relations, Gender Equality/Inequality, Governance, Livelihoods, Rights, Land Rights, Property Rights, Women's Rights Regions: Asia, Central Asia Countries: Uzbekistan

Year: 2003

The Mystery of Capital Formulation in Sub-Saharan Africa: Women, Property Rights and Customary Law


Joireman, Sandra F. 2008. “The Mystery of Capital Formulation in Sub-Saharan Africa: Women, Property Rights and Customary Law.” World Development 36 (7): 1233- 46.

Author: Sandra F. Joireman


Economists such as Hernando De Soto have argued that clearly defined property rights are essential to capital formation and ultimately to economic growth and poverty alleviation. This article traces two impediments to the clear definition of property rights in the African context: customary law and the status of women. Both of these issues interfere with the attempt of African countries to rearticulate property law with the goal of capital formation. Constructive attempts to define property rights must address the problem of enforcement in under-resourced environments where changes may not be welcomed.

Keywords: Property Rights, law, capital formation, poverty, women

Topics: Economies, Poverty, Gender, Women, Rights, Property Rights, Women's Rights Regions: Africa

Year: 2008

Land Reform in Southern and Eastern Africa: Key Issues for Strengthening Women's Access to and Rights in Land


Walker, Cherryl. 2002. Land Reform in Southern and Eastern Africa: Key Issues for Strengthening Women's Access to and Rights in Land. Harare, Zimbabwe: Sub-regional office for Southern and Eastern Africa, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

Author: Cherryl Walker

Keywords: women's land access, socio-economics, culture, HIV/AIDS


This report is the result of a literature review study conducted to explore the area of women's access to land in East and South Africa and to suggest areas for further research. It provides a historical and current overview of land policies, and situates the question of women's access to land within this broader context, considering also its cultural context, its socio-economic implications and its relationship to HIV/ AIDS. The report then discusses the various approaches taken for land reform in these areas, and the implications for women in policies that strengthen customary/communal systems and those that seek to implement a more formal/individualised system. The report presents four case studies from Kenya, South Africa, Uganda, and Zimbabwe and ends with a list of recommendations for future research and policies in the region.

Topics: Gender, Women, Gendered Power Relations, Health, HIV/AIDS, Rights, Land Rights, Property Rights, Women's Rights Regions: Africa, East Africa, Southern Africa Countries: Kenya, South Africa, Uganda, Zimbabwe

Year: 2002

Toward Freedom from Domestic Violence: The Neglected Obvious


Agarwal, Bina, and Pradeep Panda. 2007. “Toward Freedom from Domestic Violence: The Neglected Obvious.” Journal of Human Development and Capabilities 8 (3): 359-88.

Authors: Bina Agarwal, Pradeep Panda


Freedom is a key concept in Amartya Sen’s definitions of capabilities and development. This paper focuses on a serious and neglected form of unfreedom — domestic violence — and argues that freedom from such violence must be integral to evaluating developmental progress. Conceptually, it notes that a person’s well-being can depend not only on absolute measures of capabilities and functionings but also on relative capabilities and functionings within families; and this can even lead to perverse effects. A man married to a woman better employed than himself, for instance, may be irked by her higher achievement and physically abuse her, thus reducing her well-being achievement (e.g. by undermining her health) and her well-being freedom (e.g. by reducing her work mobility or social interaction). Empirically the paper focuses especially on a hitherto unexplored factor — a woman’s property status — and demonstrates that owning a house or land significantly reduces her risk of marital violence. Employment, by contrast, unless it is regular, makes little difference. Immovable property provides a woman economic and physical security, enhances her self-esteem, and visibly signals the strength of her fall-back position and tangible exit option. It can both deter violence and provide an escape if violence occurs. Also unlike employment, property ownership is not found to be associated with perverse outcomes, in that a propertied woman married to a propertyless man is not subject to greater violence.

Keywords: domestic violence, women's property status, capabilities and functions, freedom, well-being

Topics: Development, Gender, Women, Gender-Based Violence, Rights, Property Rights, Women's Rights, Violence

Year: 2007

Sitting at the Table: Securing Benefits for Pastoral Women from Land Tenure Reform in Ethiopia


Flintan, Fiona. 2010. “Sitting at the Table: Securing Benefits for Pastoral Women from Land Tenure Reform in Ethiopia.” Journal of Eastern African Studies 4 (1): 153- 78.

Author: Fiona Flintan


The pastoral areas of Ethiopia are witnessing radical change in terms of both increasingly restricted mobility and access to vital resources. A cause and consequence of such constraints has been a move toward sedentarised forms of livestock and agricultural production. This is occurring in a political and socio-economic vacuum, in which the customary institutions responsible for resource allocation and access to land are becoming weaker, and where the Ethiopian government has yet to develop a clear policy or strategy for resource distribution and tenure security in pastoral areas. To date, pastoral women's property rights have been afforded a certain degree of protection by customary institutions; however, the impact on such protection is likely to be negative as these institutions weaken. Appropriate and effective government protection for women's property rights do not yet exist. Land tenure reform in pastoral areas appears imminent, partly due to increasing conflicts over access to resources, and to the existence of such reforms in other parts of the country. This paper discusses the changing nature of pastoral land rights in Ethiopia through a detailed case study of the Boran people in Oromia Regional State. It sets the case within wider national land reform processes and makes recommendations regarding how civil society and other actors can best engage with land policy and law formulation and implementation processes to secure women's land rights. (Flintan 2010)

Keywords: pastoralism, Borana people, women's rights, sedentarisation, land

Topics: Civil Society, Gender, Women, Land Tenure, Political Economies, Rights, Land Rights, Property Rights, Women's Rights Regions: Africa, East Africa Countries: Ethiopia

Year: 2010

Modest Expectations: Gender and Property Rights in Urban Mexico


Varley, Ann. 2010. “Modest Expectations: Gender and Property Rights in Urban Mexico.” Law and Society Review 44 (1): 67-100.

Author: Ann Varley


This article examines gender and property in Guadalajara, Mexico, in the light of debates that oppose formal title to the social embeddedness of rights in customary law and assert that titling is bad for women. The article focuses on urban homes, private property, and civil law but finds that qualities regarded as characterizing customary property relations also shape popular understandings of property in urban Mexico. Discussion groups and social surveys in four low-income neighborhoods addressed two aspects of family law and property: whose name should appear on titles, and who should inherit the home. The results show that women, as wives, sisters, and daughters, have a secondary relationship to property. They also suggest that the opposition of individual title to socially embedded rights is a false dichotomy and that generalizing arguments about formalization and especially the negative gender implications of titling risks replicating the universalizing tendencies of Western property models.

Keywords: titling, gender, customary law, gender relations, Property Rights


  • Most research on gender and land rights has a geographical focus on rural Africa.  There is less information on gender and land rights in Latin America, and very little work on gender and land rights in urban areas. It also approaches the topic from a different focus—property relations within the family, rather than community—to investigate the gendered aspects of property rights. Therefore, this resource is critical to a thorough understanding of the field and adds new insight into the scope and complexity of gender and land rights issues.  It is argued that relationships between individuals within families and households needs to be the focus; consider how some members may be disadvantaged in comparison to others and the complexity of property relations within the home.  
  • The author reviews family law, property and inheritance rights in Mexico: the nineteenth century individualization reforms deprived women of protection, 1917 Law of Family Relations gave women right to manage property and made separation of property mandatory; 1928- ability to choose community or separate property was reintroduced; 2000 community property and joint administration default.
  • When people die intestate, the widower is at a disadvantage compared to counterparts elsewhere in Latin America: They are only entitled to the same amount as each child.
  • In rural areas, this bias arises out of idea that agriculture is men’s work (an interesting contrast to the African view that agriculture is primarily women’s work, therefore, African women’s ‘secondary’ rights to land cannot be because of agriculture because they are often the primary agriculturalists).
  • When examining inheritance rights, the author noted that similar findings from rural Mexico could be seen in urban Mexico. The author also discusses property rights as a way of securing care in old age and “how best to use the home as a bargaining counter to ensure care in old age.” (86)
  • This is not something that is frequently discussed in the literature on gender and land rights, but has significant weight in terms of who inherits property. She also importantly notes the differences in opinion between younger and older women about inheritance preferences, noting that older women tend to think about who will care for them: “older women’s responses may reflect a sense of daughters’ vulnerability that is not shared by younger women.” (88)
  • Younger women are more likely to subscribe the discourse of equality—and perhaps equality of opportunity—between their children, regardless of sex. Women’s inheritance preferences are often lumped together and viewed as consistent, despite frequently varying opinions about who should inherit land. Asserts that “formalizing home ownership rarely creates truly individual property” because of the social embeddedness of property rights. “Formalization produces a freeze-frame image of property holdings at a particular time but cannot prevent life, death, and property relations moving on. It does not, therefore, offer the definitive resolution of tenure that some assume.” (92)
  • What are the potential costs of focussing exclusively on the local when trying to secure women’s property rights? What is the relationship between age and inheritance preferences? What are the similarities in gender and land rights problems across urban and rural settings?
  • Key question : Why might formalization in Mexico be favourable to women if it is unfavourable in customary tenure systems in sub-Saharan Africa?
  • Legality is not enough to guarantee wives’ security of tenure;  joint titling should be instituted.


“The individual continues to be implicitly opposed to the community in recommendations that rights be registered ‘in the names of groups rather than individuals’ and that this undermines the ability to predict the outcome of formalization." (70)

“How, if women’s property rights are secondary rights both in customary systems and in popular understandings of family property in Mexico, can formalization strengthen those rights in Mexico while it may extinguish them in sub-Saharan Africa?" (70)

“Women in low-income neighbourhoods of urban Mexico are less likely than men to be recognized as freely acting subjects in relation to property: Their ability to ‘own’ a home is to a significant extent conditioned on their status as wives and mothers.” (70)

“Widows inherit primarily as a bridge in the transmission of land between generations or caretakers of the family patrimony… Their rights to land are therefore lesser, insecure, temporary.” (85-86)

“This explanation clearly cannot apply to the urban home, yet the conclusions about women’s secondary relationship to property still resonate with people’s views about rights to the home in Guadalajara.” (86)

“[The] father-son relationship seemed to dominate the men’s thinking about property, while women focused on the marital relationship. Men talked about protecting their wives and children; women, about being protected. Women’s relationship with property is, then, a more indirect, passive one, contrasting with the agency assumed by men.” (80)

“Many women do not assert their rights to property for fear of being seen as less than fully committed to a relationship." (91)

“The legal context in Mexico means that formalization does not normally entail the collapse of overlapping rights in property into full ownership rights for a male head of household. The community property regime under which most couples marry means that the property is generally jointly owned.” (93)

Topics: Gender, Women, Girls, Gendered Power Relations, Land Tenure, Governance, Rights, Land Rights, Property Rights, Women's Rights Regions: Americas, North America Countries: Mexico

Year: 2010

Our Daughters Inherit our Land, but our Sons Use Their Wives’ Fields: Matrilineal-Matrilocal Land Tenure and the New Land Policy in Malawi


Peters, Pauline E. 2010. “Our Daughters Inherit our Land, but our Sons Use Their Wives’ Fields: Matrilineal-Matrilocal Land Tenure and the New Land Policy in Malawi.” Journal of Eastern African Studies 4 (1): 179-199.

Author: Pauline E. Peters


Renewed efforts in recent years to reform land tenure policy in Sub-Saharan African countries have - in some cases - included provisions aimed at improving women's land rights. The premise of such provisions is that women's land rights under customary tenure are fragile, threatened, and/or in the process of being undermined. The matrilineal-matrilocal areas in Southern Malawi described here present a counter case. Only daughters are the heirs of their matrilineage's land, while sons use their wives' land or, in special circumstances, have temporary use of fields belonging to their female matrikin. This pattern has prevailed in the face of a long and continuing history of prejudice against matriliny. Now, a new land policy, not yet passed into law, includes an explicit aim to protect and improve land rights for women. Yet the means selected by the policy - land inheritance by both sons and daughters and extension of greater authority to traditional leaders in the administration of land - will be likely, if implemented, to have opposite effects in matrilineal-matrilocal areas.

Keywords: matrilineal-matrilocal, land tenure, settlement schemes, gender equity, land policy


  • This article is significant in that it confronts the notion that women’s land rights are always “secondary” and “fragile” through examining a matrilineal-matrilocal area where women have the dominant position in land inheritance, instead of the well documented cases of patrilineal-patrilocal areas, where men tend to be in control of land allocation. It highlights the need to consider how land policies intended to strengthen the tenure security of women can, in certain locations, serve to decrease tenure security in areas where women already have a dominant position in land administration. However in arguing that the policy will have a negative impact on women’s control over land rights in matrilineal areas, Peters neglects the positive effects that the new land law will have in improving the tenure security of men in matrilineal areas, increasing gender equity in land rights.
  • Peters defines matrilineal and matrilocal principles: “that is, inheritance and succession run through the female line so that children are members of their mother's lineage, the heir to a male authority holder is his sister's son, and, on marriage, husbands move to their wives' village.” (182)
  • Impact of policy on matrilineal areas: The policy provides for all children, irrespective of sex, to inherit land from their parents. Paradoxically, if actually implemented, this would greatly reduce women's existing rights in matrilineal-matrilocal areas by including sons as equal heirs, even though it may provide more rights for some women in patrilineal-patrilocal areas.
  • Responding to claims that policy would enhance gender equity in land acquisition in both patrilineal and matrilineal social systems, the author says it "appears laudable. However, not only would such changes be a 'departure from existing norms and practices' and hence likely to stimulate 'esistance', but, if put into practice, they would fundamentally reshape kinship and residence patterns and the multiple social relations involved therein.” (191)


“In the many domains of life governed by kinship in this matrilineal-matrilocal area, women exercise considerable authority alongside their brothers. Thus, the brother who is selected as the mwini mbumba is consulted by his sisters in times of important decisions, such as the treatment of an illness, marriage disputes, funeral arrangements, and so on. But he works closely with his sisters in deciding these matters even though he announces the final decision. Beyond these kinship and village domains, however, male authority is the norm in Malawi, and women are largely marginalized.” (184)

“The loss to women which has been documented in other countries undergoing registration and titling of land, would be doubly problematic in Malawi because, in the name of improving women's secure access to land, as currently formulated it will dispossess women in matrilineal-matrilocal areas who currently have highly secure, indeed privileged, rights in comparison with men's.” (194)

Topics: Gender, Women, Men, Gendered Power Relations, Patriarchy, Gender Equality/Inequality, Gender Equity, Land Tenure, Rights, Land Rights, Property Rights, Women's Rights Regions: Africa, Southern Africa Countries: Malawi

Year: 2010

Cutting the Web of Interests: Pitfalls of Formalizing Property Rights


Meinzen-Dick, Ruth, and Esther Mwangi.2009. “Cutting the Web of Interests: Pitfalls of Formalizing Property Rights.” Land Use Policy 26: 36-43.

Authors: Ruth Meinzen-Dick, Esther Mwangi


Property rights to land can be thought of as a web of interests, with many different parties having a right to use, regulate, or manage the resource, which may be based on a range of customary institutions or local norms as well as state law. These interests often play a critical role in livelihoods, social relations, and ecological functions. The formalization of property rights has historically led to a cutting of this web, creating more exclusive forms of rights over the resource. Drawing from case studies in Kenya the paper emphasizes the risk of excluding legitimate claimants in formalization processes that focus on individual titling. By collapsing all rights within individuals, such programs have negated the distinct multiple claims by women, youths, and seasonal users, among others. We examine ways in which formalization processes can secure diverse claims, and highlight the need for a better understanding of the social and ecological implications of existing land tenure before they are undermined by formalization.


Keywords: land access, Property Rights, social relations, ecological functions


“Although tenure was grounded in a patrilineal system, Taita women traditionally had use rights in particular parcels of land, acquired primarily as wives or widows. Widows had the right to pawn, or sell parcels on behalf of minor heirs. The land tenure reform jeopardized women’s’ use rights and autonomy in agricultural decision-making. Because title deeds were issued in the name of husbands only, women ended up with no enforceable rights in traditional or modern law to even the use of the parcel or any portion of it. In addition, the guardianship rights of widows over deceased husbands’ property are threatened by the registration of the consolidated plot in the husband's name only, because it impairs their right to make decisions, including sales of land, on behalf of minor sons.” (39)


Topics: Age, Youth, Gender, Women, Land Tenure, Rights, Land Rights, Property Rights, Women's Rights Regions: Africa, East Africa Countries: Kenya

Year: 2009

Formalization of Land Rights in the South: An Overview


Sjaastad, Espen, and Ben Cousins. 2008. “Formalization of Land Rights in the South: An Overview.” Land Use Policy 26: 1-9.

Authors: Espen Sjaastad, Ben Cousins


Formalisation of property rights has recently been proposed as a way of reducing poverty. The poor, it is said, do not lack assets, they lack only the formal, protected rights necessary to make these assets engines of entrepreneurship, thriving markets, and information networks. Historical evidence with regard to formalisation programmes is, however, mixed at best, and current universalist proposals contain numerous flaws. A more context-specific and flexible approach is needed, with greater attention to local settings and specific objectives and tools. Property formalisation should not be considered merely a technical tool but must take account of politics and culture.

Keywords: property, land rights, poverty, development, formalization

Topics: Gender, Women, Gendered Power Relations, Gender Equality/Inequality, Rights, Land Rights, Property Rights, Women's Rights Regions: Africa

Year: 2008

Gender, Property Rights, and Natural Resources


Meinzen-Dick, Ruth, Lynn Brown, Hilary Sims Feldstein, and Agnes Quisumbing. 1997. “Gender, Property Rights and Natural Resources.” World Development 25 (8): 1303–15.

Authors: Ruth Meinzen-Dick, Lynn R. Brown, Hilary Sims Feldstein, Agnes R. Quisumbing

Keywords: natural resources, intrahousehold, land tenure, water resources, trees



Attention to gender differences in property rights can improve the outcomes of natural resource management policies and projects in terms of efficiency, environmental sustainability, equity, and empowerment of resource users. Although it is impossible to generalize across cultures and resources, it is important to identify the nature of rights to land, trees and water held by women and men, and how they are acquired and transmitted from one user to another. The paper particularly examines how the shift from customary tenure systems to private property - in land, trees and water - has affected women, the effect of gender differences in property on collective action, and the implications for project design.


“The maximization of one output from a resource, for example fruits, may be in conflict with the maximization of another, for example logs, and thus hard choices may have to be made... there may be gender differentials if, for example, logs are marketed by men and fruits are gathered by women and provide a source of income and/or food” (p. 1305).

“Lastarria-Cornhiel’s paper in this issue points out how the spread of Islam and colonialism have eroded traditions of female inheritance in parts of Africa. But looking narrowly at inheritance patterns for one resource may be misleading. For example, in rural areas of the Philippines, transmission of land to men through inheritance is balanced by favoring the education of girls (Wuisumbing, 1997)” (p. 1308).
“The policy implication is that privatization programs need to be designed so that women can obtain title, but this may not be sufficient to allow women to intensify production. That requires access to credit and other inputs in support of resource utilization. Limited access to markets, credit, and inputs may be because they are not there at all; or skewed because of normative or legal gender bias restricting women’s access. This implies a need for complementary programs to provide credit and legal assistance along with appropriately designed rules” (p. 1309).
“A related question is whether women are better off by integrating into existing male-dominated groups or in setting up their own groups for resource management (e.g. nurseries, social forestry action, etc.)? Examples from other arenas tend to indicate that the different roles and responsibilities of women can prejudice their ability to integrate successfully in mixed groups” (p. 1311).
“Legal systems need to be developed and adapted to assist women in obtaining or protecting their rights. In many cases this requires moving beyond simple ownership, to a recognition of flexible, multiuser tenure arrangement” (p. 1312).

Topics: Economies, Gender, Women, Gender Analysis, Gendered Power Relations, Gender Equity, Land Tenure, Rights, Land Rights, Property Rights, Women's Rights

Year: 1997


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