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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.

Latest News

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

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