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Quantitative and qualitative assessments

4.1 Having some measurement system for evaluating access to land is essential if the “success” or “failure” of a particular policy, programme or project is to be determined. Measurement of access to land needs to involve both qualitative and quantitative parameters.16 Most land administration activities are concerned with property rights to the surface of the land, together with its fixed improvements and resources. The focus becomes the quantity of rights (e.g., ownership, lease, easement), the size of the parcel of land, or its economic value. On the other hand, social anthropologists have tended to emphasize the uniqueness of land tenure systems within a given culture and focus on the nature or quality of the rights that may be involved. Both approaches are valid for certain purposes and both have their limitations. In designing a way of measuring gender-related access to land, it may be important to draw on both approaches.

4.2 Quantity of rights. One way of examining the quantity of rights is to identify a range of rights within the “bundle” of rights. These can be categorized as:

4.3 In practice the scope of potential rights of access may be broad and measurements could be required for rights such as the following.

4.4 Quality of rights. Examining the quality of the rights to determine indicators is more complex and only a few examples can be given here. One measure of quality is the legal security of the rights, i.e., how well do formal law (e.g., legislation) or informal law (e.g., traditional or local community rules) protect the ownership of the rights. Thus, for example, inheritance through patrilineal rules may limit women’s right of control. Physical security is another indicator that may be affected, for example, by war or by custom where land is seized by the male relatives on death of a husband. A third example of quality of rights is transferability. Use rights may often be non-transferable because they are vested in a family or particular family members. Furthermore, transferability may be affected by the quality of the evidence of the right, such as an official document or register.

4.5 Because at times there can be great differences between rights as defined (in statutory law or customary norms) and those rights as actually practiced, an assessment should consider the extent to which people are able to enjoy their rights, and the quality of the protections afforded to them through formal courts, community arbitration processes, etc.

Development of indicators

4.6 The next step is what specific indicators might be used to measure quality and quantity. Such indicators will be important in pre-project assessments and in later monitoring and post-project evaluation. Only a few samples can be given here and boxes 2 and 3 present more comprehensive lists of indicators that point to areas where gender disaggregated information might be collected and analyzed.



  • Rights granted by constitutions, statutes, and official tribunals

  • Rights granted by other laws - customary, informal, secondary, temporary

  • Security of the aforementioned rights in terms of enforcement and application

  • Land-related or subsidiary rights that women and men are free to practice without specific mention in formal or informal laws

  • Effective access to fair adjudication including the court systems or other dispute resolution processes

  • Comparison by gender of the formal and informal inheritance systems and how they operate in distributing land rights and holdings

  • Effective access to and participation in the local decision-making bodies

  • Social status in the community based on access to land

  • Role in household decision making (e.g., on income strategies, provision of food and shelter)

  • Relative percentages of male and female population holding secure (e.g., recorded) and insecure (at will) title to land



Characteristics of land holdings in an area:

  • Origins of landholdings by gender (e.g, custom, statute, occupation, inheritance)

  • Rural and urban demography by gender

  • Size and relative location (e.g., to transportation and other services or amenities) of land parcels and housing by gender

  • Acquisition through inheritance of assets other than land, by gender

  • Percentage of population depending on agriculture for their livelihood by gender

  • Heads of households by gender (de facto and de jure)

  • Average number of dependants in male and female headed households

Benefits, roles, and responsibilities of land tenure by household:

  • Traditional land-related responsibilities by gender

  • Economic aspects of land assets by gender

  • Effective access to credit based on land assets by gender

  • Relative participation by gender in formal and informal housing and land markets (types of transactions, procedures taken, obstacles, etc.)

  • Beneficiaries of land sales by gender (i.e., how were the proceeds of the sale used)

  • Economic and physical resource allocation by gender within the household

  • Proportion of household food produced directly by gender

  • Proportion of cash-crops produced by gender

  • Percentages of paid and unpaid labour activities by gender

  • Access to and use of hired labour by gender

4.7 One major indicator used to measure access to land is information on rights held by people. The conventional approach has been to use documents of land rights or land registry records. This approach has the advantage of being straight forward and reasonably objective but it has many limitations. Land registries are not the sole source of information on all rights relating to a parcel of land, and even in western countries title documents and registers record only a limited set of rights and may register the rights in the name of only one person. The situation is made more complex in developing nations where:

4.8 A second major indicator is legislation, such as laws for inheritance, divorce, or land use. Such an indicator can be useful but it can also be misleading since the formal legislation may not reflect what actually is accepted practice on the ground. One example is divorce law of socialist states that recognises equal division of property. How well a spouse’s rights might be protected on divorce, especially in impoverished rural regions, will also depend on the degree of access to the courts, ability to finance litigation, and the degree of support provided by the family or community. Similarly, calls for equal rights in constitutions can be quite meaningless in light of the actual practice of local communities.

4.9 Other indicators include physical occupation or proof of the actual exercise of the rights. Again this has some difficulties in that it may not agree with the formal (legal) status and it may be difficult to observe, in a short time span, all of rights in play. Related to these indicators are measures such as: de facto head of household; primary food provider; community acceptance or agreement of someone’s rights; or the share of financial and labour inputs. Even more difficult to measure objectively and completely are factors such as social status and decision-making power.

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