Collaborative research on Women’s Communal Land Rights (WCLR) in Africa

Collaborative research on Women’s Communal Land Rights (WCLR) in Africa


100,000 USD


Kenyan Peasants League (KPL), small-scale farmers’ organisation, Kenya.
Pastoral Women’s Council (PWC), Maasai pastoralist women’s organisation, Tanzania.
CNOP-G, small-scale farmers’ platform, Guinea. 
COFERSA, a women farmers’ organisation, Mali.


Dr. Priscilla Claeys and Dr. Stefanie Lemke


September 2020 – February 2022

CAWR Theme

Policies and Institutions for Resilient Food and Water Systems

Sustainable Development Goals

GOAL 1: No Poverty
GOAL 2: Zero Hunger
GOAL 5: Gender Equality
GOAL 10: Reduced Inequalities
GOAL 13: Climate Action
GOAL 15: Life on Land

Project Overview

An increasing number of African States are recognizing customary land tenure in their legal and policy frameworks (Tripp 2001). Key actors in the Food Sovereignty movement, such as the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA), are also advocating for the legal recognition of communal land rights (CLR), which they see as key to protect communities against land grabbing. Yet, exploratory research conducted with the support of 11th Hour in 2018-19 enabled us to identify an important gap in relation to women and communal land.

The intersection between gender and communal land rights deserves more attention for four reasons. First, efforts by development actors have focused on enabling women to acquire or work on the land individually. This is however particularly problematic in Africa, where most of the land is under customary tenure, and where access to collectively held land is essential to women’s livelihoods. Second, in most customary land systems in Africa, women are not recognized independent rights to land and they rarely participate in decisions about communal land governance (CLG). In practice, they gain access to them through their relationship with a male relative (usually the husband or father) (FAO 2011; Krantz 2015; Scalise 2012). Women are rarely compensated for their losses in case of land dispossession and may lose access if the relationship no longer exists (in case of divorce or death of the husband). In addition, customary institutions are rapidly changing, and the traditional norms that used to ensure that women would have access to land are no longer enforced or in place. Third, communal land rights are increasingly being turned into individual plots that are sold to investors, triggering intra-household competition between men and women - and between generations - over productive resources. In many places, women are losing access to land as a result of the family property being privatized by senior male members, a phenomenon known as ‘family land grabbing’ (IIED 2006). Fourth, efforts to provide secure land tenure for communities through the formalization of communal land ownership, while valuable and important, often have negative outcomes for women as their interests are not properly considered in the implementation of state programs to strengthen collective tenure (Giovarelli; Richardson; Scalise 2016).

Project Objectives

The overarching objective of this project is to draw lessons from and scale up efforts to advance WCLR in East and West Africa. The project will rely on 4 main areas of work:

  1. Capacity-building: Support 4 farmer and pastoralist organizations in East and West Africa in their efforts at a) becoming more gender-sensitive and gender-transformative; b) developing their internal capacity to conduct participatory action research (PAR) in response to their own interests and vision.
  2. Participatory Research: Document and draw lessons from efforts to advance women’s communal land rights (WCLR) in different spaces, from the household to the village level, to the local government or traditional authorities, to the district level.
  3. Facilitate dialogues at all levels.
    1. between women and men, across generations, at household level, among women
    2. Identify, create and multiply tools and processes that work to facilitate inclusive and empowering dialogues
    3. Create social cohesion
  4. Action for social change: Support actions that advance and scale-up WCLR, in line with the individual needs and priorities of the partner organisations.

Research objectives were co-designed with project partners and are the outcome of scoping research conducted during 2018-2019. For more information on the underlying research process and methods, see Lemke and Claeys, 2020.

  • Target level/action arena Short term impacts (6-12 m) Mid-term impacts (1-3 y) Longer-term impacts (+3y)
    Household level (Hh) Greater awareness and understanding of perceptions regarding roles/responsibilities of women and men in the Hh Reduced resistance of Hh members towards women’s participation and greater self-determination Equal engagement and participation of women and men in decision-making and responsibilities at Hh level
    Women at community level Greater awareness and understanding of the current issues affecting WCLR. Greater information on obstacles and opportunities to engage in communal land governance (CLG). Greater trust and confidence to engage in communal land governance (CLG). Reduced resistance of community members (in particular community leaders and older men) towards including women and youth in CLG. Shared understanding at community level of the advantages of broader inclusivity in CLG. Greater meaningful and active participation of women and young women and men in CLG. Equal voice and participation of women, young women and men and marginalized community members in CLG. Enhanced mutual cooperation and shared decision-making, between wives and husband; older and younger generation; brother and sister. Rebalanced power relations and greater community unity and resistance to external threats e.g. land grabbing.
    Organizations working to advance WCLR Awareness of internal practices and issues that may prevent the organization to fully embrace a gender-transformative approach to its work Greater buy-in by all members of the organization.Shared understanding and appropriation of the tools needed to overcome internal resistance to change. The organization and the organizational culture have become truly-gender transformative. The organization becomes a model for others. The identity and cohesion of the organization is strengthened.
    WCLR network Best practices and lessons learned from various organizations are documented and shared (online repository) Efforts and initiatives to understand, advance and protect WCLR are reinforced thanks to peer-learning and exchanges within the network on WCLR A truly African women voice on land and CLG can express itself and build solidarity within the WCLR network
    Broader Food Sovereignty network All organizations and movements interested in learning about and supporting WCLR are identified Issues affecting WCLR are gaining visibility. WCLR are prioritized in agenda-setting by several organizations and networks in the food sovereignty movement. A truly African women voice can be heard on land and CLG. Men’s organisations advocate for women’s voices and rights.
  • Activities and ouputs under each area of work include:

    1. Capacity building and support
      1. Open spaces for reflexivity and training with all staff of partners organizations, including facilitators and community workers
      2. Co-design research protocol and methodology
      3. Co-analyse research findings
      4. Discuss gender bias and stereotypes
      5. Develop autonomous research skills at organisational level
    2. Participatory Research
      1. Collect data and document processes and best practices in partnership with organizations, co-develop learning exchanges
      2. Collect and document success stories of women who have gained control over communal land governance (CLG)
      3. Analyze tensions between statutory and customary law regarding WCLR
      4. Document customary practices that advance or limit WCLR
      5. Map initiatives and efforts that seek to advance WCLR and social change
      6. Identify which norms could be tapped into to advance social change
      7. Document success stories and identify role models
      8. Document the use of participatory action research (PAR) to advance WCLR
      9. Document the impact of Covid-19, for example, how are organisations responding to Covid-19?; how are their ongoing activities affected; immediate/longer-term impacts?
    3. Dialogue
      1. Facilitate horizontal dialogues at household level, between women, men, women-men, youth-older, village-local government-traditional authorities.
      2. Identify role models and agents of change (women and men, younger and older) and support mentoring opportunities
      3. Co-organize and co-facilitate peer-to-peer learning and horizontal exchanges between various organizations (using participatory workshops, participatory video, podcast, radio, drama)
      4. Share lessons learned from the two regions
    4. Action
      1. Provide information and training
      2. Support women and youth
      3. Legal and political advocacy
      4. Public interest litigation (PIL), legal redress
      5. Disseminate and communicate research findings (policy briefs, journal articles, short communications via relevant networks)
      6. Develop networks to support the emergence of an African women voice on WCLR and increase the visibility of WCLR in food sovereignty networks (AFSA, LVC, IPC, ROPPA)
      7. Establish an advisory board for the project to involve other organisations and networks and get feedback on project orientations and decisions

Latest News

Collaborative research project launched to advance Women’s Communal Land Rights in Africa

 Queen’s Award for Enterprise Logo
University of the year shortlisted
QS Five Star Rating 2023