4. Gender Land Inequalities and Tenure Insecurity
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Gender Land Inequalities and Tenure Insecurity 91 4 Gender Land Inequalities and Tenure Insecurity Patriarchy, power relations and unequal gender land rights Cutting across unequal and discriminatory patterns and structures of land distribution , land tenure and land use, is the land question with regard to gender inequality. The key land question here remains women’s access to and control of land, which is inadequate and constrained by various customary and generally patriarchal social relations. In general, land tenure where women hold land is extremely insecure. The major forms and sources of this unequal land distribution and tenure problem is its derivation from the dominance of patriarchy and customary land tenure systems and local authority structures. These perverse social relations, also characteristic in different form in pre-colonial African societies, were contrived during colonial and contemporary times by the male-dominated central and local state and political power structures. Unequal gender relations regarding land control and use have over time worsened and deprived women of their land rights in many parts of the continent , reduced the extent and quality of the land rights that they continue to hold, and failed to cater for the new forms of land rights and the growing land needs of women. Women’s land rights are insecure and inadequate for their ascribed roles as key agricultural producers and as the custodians of children as well as of the family livelihood in rural and urban areas. Unequal gender rights in land must be understood in the context of the discrimination and exploitation of women through the instrumentalisation of land tenure regimes that worked against women’s land and other rights, particularly the manipulation of the means and structures of land use and production. These processes tend to Moyo-sept-07.pmd 24/01/2008, 20:01 91 African Land Questions, Agrarian Transitions and the State 92 marginalise women from the products of their labour and the benefits of the control of land. The social and economic costs of not recognising the rights of women to land and property are many (Tsikata 2001; Moyo 1995; Cheater 1981). Changing concepts of property and citizenship and their gender implications are critical to understanding land and agrarian relations. Gender relations can be examined through the different ways in which men and women are inequitably treated in land ownership and land use relations, especially in terms of the role land plays in the wider subordination of women in the patriarchal structures which dominate broader social and production relations. Race, class, ethnicity, age, economic and political circumstances are thus systematically structured to influence gender relations with respect to land and the benefits derived from its productive use. Gender-based struggles for land where men and their male heirs enjoy inequitable control over land are common in Africa. Disenchantment with maledominated local land administration processes managed by the state, traditional authorities, and local committee structures is a pressing concern for women. Both the extended family structure and nuclear families are key production and investment strategies for the subsistence and market systems of production which are utilised by families and communities (Lastarria-Cornhiel 2002). Often there are blurred distinctions between customary and formal systems , and between family and community structures, which are manipulated by the interests of powerful groups in the allocation and use of land, leading to unequal gender outcomes around social equity, citizenship and land rights (ibid). There is general agreement that customary land tenure rules discriminate against women in Africa. Why this is the case, the ways in which such discrimination occurs, and therefore the most effective solutions to combat gender inequality, are all contentious subjects (Tsikata 2001). Historical and anthropological work on women’s interests in land in both patrilineal and matrilineal groups has sought, among other things, to demonstrate that women did have some significant interests under customary land tenure, and that these have been eroded by the processes of agrarian change and codification of customary law (Ibid). However, women have contested and resisted this erosion of their interests in various ways, including recourse to favourable traditional practices, and less commonly, by recourse to legal processes (Ibid). In customary societies, the concept of citizenship (or membership) is differentiated along ethnic, lineage, gender, and age lines (Ibid). But colonial taxation systems conferred citizenship on male adults through payment of the tax, Moyo-sept-07.pmd 24/01/2008, 20:01 92 Gender Land Inequalities and Tenure Insecurity 93 and reinforced their land rights. Generally, full members of the community have direct...


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