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Gender and land rights: findings and lessons from country studies - Susanna Lastarria-Cornhiel and Zoraida García-Frías


Rights to land - especially women's rights to land - are determined by a complex interaction between the institutions, and underlying power relations, of a society; the first purpose of this paper is to pinpoint what these are in general, with illustrations from case studies. Drawing on this background, the second objective of this analysis is to demonstrate the various ways in which women are constrained in obtaining and enforcing their land rights. Finally, women's land access experiences in Latin America, sub-Saharan Africa and Central Asia are summarized to provide referents from which women's development in the future can be considered.

Put simply, land can be obtained either through inheritance, purchase, or state intervention. These mechanisms, in turn, are underpinned by varying combinations of socio-cultural institutions, the market economy, and the state. The operation of one institution can often contradict the requirements of another. For example, inheritance operates to exclude women, in many cases, by its predominantly patrilinear nature. Women who become heads of household following widowhood, divorce or desertion tend to lose out on land access, as the land passes to the next male in line; rather than gaining the recognition of rights that would be associated, if they were male, with taking on the head of household role. Gaining land through purchase is not an option open to women in many areas of the world, with assistance programmes often being aimed at men, or requiring documentation not usually held by women, and the financial institutions themselves possibly being reluctant to deal direct with a woman, owing to underlying assumptions about her capacity or right to act in this way. State intervention also tends not to be free of the assumptions governing society at large. Even when, for example, the state passes a gender-equitable law, its implementation may be inhibited by political opposition, economic problems, or social and cultural norms.

Women are constrained in obtaining and exercising their rights to land in many overlapping ways. At the simplest level, state and civil institutions commissioned with implementing women's rights may be staffed by individuals reluctant to implement change, or lacking appropriate training. The internal norms of communities, households and individuals may perpetuate discrimination, whatever the official legislation. Within the context of the growing market economy, land is mainly a commodity rather than a secure base on which to sustain a family, and the individualization of rights - on which participation in the land market depends - tends to exclude women wherever male heads of household hold legal title to land on behalf of the family unit. The most persistent obstacles to improving gender equity in land rights are seen to have their roots in patriarchal values and practices, which tend to survive and flourish in capitalist and socialist societies alike.


One of the major areas of achievement for women within the last few decades has been the development of new statutory regulations to acknowledge women's rights to hold land and other productive resources. These statutory regulations in many cases embrace recognition of leasehold rights to land, ownership and shared property rights. In some cases, customary laws have been reworked in the light of women's rights. In other cases, such as in South Africa where a new law on informal land rights was launched in 1996, and in Namibia, women's traditional rights to land have been reinterpreted as a result. However, there are persistent challenges and obstacles, especially in enforcing legislation and implementing gender-equity policies at the national level, owing to incoherence or conflicts between statutory and customary laws.

Much recent work in development studies has centred attention on the links between land rights and security of access/tenure for women on the one hand and rural productivity on the other. At the same time, land allocation and tenure arrangements have re-emerged as core issues for development in the context of modern institutional arrangements for land management and agriculture.

This paper attempts to illustrate and analyse the institutional complexity that largely determines rights to land and, in particular, women's rights to land. The institutional complexity in relation to land rights arises from there being three general mechanisms by which to obtain land: through inheritance, purchase, or state intervention. These three mechanisms are influenced and regulated by socio-cultural institutions, the market economy and the state, and while any one set of institutions may appear dominant within a certain context, it is the dynamics between institutions and shifting power relations within the society that ultimately determine tenure relations. The objectives of this paper are to (1) examine how these institutions and power relations determine women's rights to land, (2) highlight the cultural constraints women face in obtaining and/or enforcing land rights, and (3) from various country studies, draw conclusions relevant to the prevalent institutional environment that guides the definition of rights to land in the various regions, especially for women.

Land, gender, and power

Gender and Land: two very political issues. The struggles for land and for gender equity are related to power and processes of empowerment. Whether land represents an important cultural resource or a productive factor and capital asset, those who control land rights have a certain amount of power over those who do not, especially in rural areas. Similarly, from the rights, status and opportunities that in many cultures accrue to men on the basis of their sex flows a certain amount of control over the notso- endowed sex. Further discrimination against the less powerful group tends to arise from these biases, so the recognition of equal rights for women and men is fundamental to any process attempting to rectify imbalances that result from privileging one group over the other. An institutional context that allows for the coexistence of social and gender diversity needs to underpin that statement of equal rights. This requires that different interest groups in society reach a workable agreement, almost inevitably through political struggles that involve concessions, at least in the short run, by one group to another.

Gradually over the last few centuries, and particularly during the twentieth century, civil society and state institutions have come to recognize that all persons have the same human rights, and that these include social, economic and political rights. Civil society has struggled and worked with state structures and institutions to have equal rights implemented. International institutions have also had an important role in this ongoing struggle. Advances have been made - hand in hand with the recognition that, while in the short term some will have to make concessions and even relinquish power, the ultimate objective will benefit society as a whole and contribute to the sustainable development of all its interest groups.

The legal recognition of human and civil rights in constitutions, civil codes and so on is, of course, necessary and basic to establishing programme objectives, assumptions and activities. However, passing laws does not guarantee positive action and institutional change. There is often a delay - sometimes a long one - between the formulation of legal rights and the actual implementation of those rights. This delay can be the result of political opposition or economic problems, just as, often, social and cultural norms inhibit the internalization and exercise of these rights.

State and civil institutions that are the guardians and enforcers of human and civil rights may be staffed by people who do not always share the values underlying equity, or who neglect to ensure that these rights are implemented in the day-to-day administration of programmes. In the same way, communities, households and individuals may hold to norms and practices that perpetuate sex (or racial, or ethnic, or class) discrimination, regardless of relevant legislation. The fact that women do not have rights to land equal - or even comparable - to those of men is in part due to how they are perceived by society, by men, and by themselves.

Gender equity, efficiency and welfare issues

Why is gender equity an important issue where land rights are concerned? The simple answer is that systematic differences in land tenure rights between men and women contribute to structural inequality and to poverty for women. Access to land and control over its use are the basis for food and income production in rural areas, and, more broadly, for household well-being. Access to other productive resources such as water, irrigation systems and forest products is tied to land tenure as well (Meizen-Dick et al., 1997). Women who become heads of household are particularly vulnerable: if their access to land has previously been through their husbands and fathers, they often lose their property rights following widowhood, divorce or desertion. This situation becomes increasingly problematic as the number of femaleheaded households grows.

In most regions, the number of rural households in which a woman is the head or the reference person has been increasing during recent decades. Regional statistics show that in Southern Africa such households represent 42 percent of the total and in the Caribbean they represent 35 percent (United Nations, 2000: 42, 46 - 50). Rural households are increasingly headed by women; moreover, the percentage of women in the rural labour force in all developing regions has increased in the last decade (FAO 1999: 13).

Unequal property rights, including lack of direct access to and control of land, may place constraints on women's productive roles and affect their power and influence in the household and the community. In many societies, property rights reflect, if not determine, a person's citizenship status or degree of inclusion in community organizations. In Mexico's ejidos, for example, only persons who have ejido ownership rights to land are considered ejido members with the right to vote on community issues. Denial of property rights is often used as an exclusionary mechanism for ethnic or racial minority groups. When women are denied equal property rights, they also experience reduced social, economic and - often - political status.

Women provide a large proportion of the labour that goes into agricultural production, even though official statistics based on census and survey instruments often underestimate women's work and contribution to national wealth (see, for example, FAO, 1993). A recent FAO document (1999: 12 - 13) shows that while the proportion of the labour force working in agriculture declined over the 1990s, the proportion of women working in agriculture increased, particularly in developing countries. In some regions, such as Africa and Asia, almost half of the labour force is female.

Women have always worked in the production of food and other items in rural areas. Official statistics tend to disguise this fact, owing to the way in which agricultural work is officially defined and recorded. Women's agricultural activities are either not taken into account, or not recorded separately, in spite of efforts to improve sex-differentiated data in agricultural census and household surveys.

One trend is that more rural women are working off the farm in the agribusiness sector, contracted to undertake food processing as well as field work. Another trend is that women assume responsibility of the family farm when men take on wage work. And still another is that women's labour contribution generally expands as family farms increase cash crops production and processing of produce in order to augment family incomes. Economic production theory would indicate that if women smallholders are to produce efficiently for themselves and their families as well as for local and regional markets, they should have control over productive resources.[25]

Women in most regions tend to be ultimately responsible for children and other dependants - the norm being that women are responsible for food processing and preparation, providing and obtaining health care, and clothing their children - whether there is a male reference person present in the household or not. Female-headed households, both de jure and de facto, are on the increase because of migration, civil conflicts and disease, and male parental abandonment. Over recent decades, women's increased responsibility for maintaining the family while continuing to carry out these more traditional roles has demanded they evolve rather complex and demanding livelihood strategies, responding to changes that influence rural families such as:

Studies have shown that resources controlled by women are more likely to be used to improve family food consumption and welfare, reduce child malnutrition, and increase overall well-being of the family (Blumberg, 1991; von Braun and Kennedy, 1994; Hirschmann, 1984). Food security and family well-being are thus important reasons for protecting or enhancing women's rights to land.

Along with the fact that women increasingly participate in agricultural production and assume more overall responsibility for families, the socio-cultural norms, values and practices of rural societies are being modified. Traditional safeguards - or safety nets - that customary tenure systems offered women are disintegrating, often leaving women with tenuous access to resources.

When a customary tenure system is able to ensure that households in the community have sufficient resources to provide for their subsistence needs, individuals with lower socio-economic status, such as women, are also generally assured the means to provide for themselves and their families, although their access to land and land-based resources may be indirect and is often dependent on a male relative (Guyer 1987). However, today's reality is that many of these customary tenure systems are no longer capable of providing even this basic assurance. Pressures such as poverty, the growing market economy and the demands of commercial agriculture are converting land into an asset. The consequences of this revaluation of land are diverse, but two of them are of particular concern to us here: land scarcity and individualization of rights.

Since women often do not have direct control over resources, they tend to lose their user rights and other indirect rights when societal changes occur. This is because those who have traditionally controlled resources are able to increase their own rights during the process of reorganization, often at the expense of those with secondary rights. As land becomes a marketable asset, family and community members - who in the past would have respected a woman's access rights to land - may violate or ignore those rights, particularly in the case of widows and divorcees.

The many meanings of land

The value and meaning of land as a productive resource and cultural heritage is universally recognized. Its additional social and psychological importance for rural families should not be ignored. For many of the historically disadvantaged population groups, particularly those in rural areas, land rights are not primarily marketable assets but rather a secure base on which to shelter and nurture their families and to develop their livelihood strategies.

Although rural income in many countries has become less dependent on agriculture, land continues to be a crucial resource for the survival and reproduction of rural populations. And as rural households become more feminized, land is gaining new significance as a secure place to raise families and as a base for diversified livelihood strategies. When members of rural families migrate to urban or industrial areas in search of wage labour, they continue to rely on the support of the family they left behind. When they are unemployed, the family home and land is often able to reabsorb them until they find waged work again. Family land in the village provides all family members with a place where they belong and can always return to. In economies where employment is unstable, unemployment is high, and where industries come and go, this point of stability is materially, socially and psychologically important.

The cultural and social values attached to land are important considerations when designing programmes around land rights and land distribution: they help to explain why the struggle for land is sometimes so tenacious, why communities remain on or return to ancestral areas, and why families sometimes hold on to parcels that have minimal economic or productive value.

Land and resource tenure and gender

The analysis of tenure systems is a key to understanding the social relations surrounding natural resources - particularly land, water and trees. In showing who has the right to use which resources, and how they are to be used, the social relations described by tenure systems are especially relevant to programmes that attempt to increase agricultural production, decrease environmental degradation and improve rural standards of living. These social relations influence significantly how different persons will respond to and participate in development programmes.

Gender is one of the most important determinants of relations and rights in households and rural communities. Together with class, gender greatly affects a person's opportunities, aspirations, standard of living, access to resources, status in the community and self-perception. Policies and development programmes can impact on the allocation of natural resources, to influence women's and men's use and management of those resources. The implications for a person's ability to use natural resources productively and sustainably are potentially far-reaching.

Any given natural resource tenure system is interwoven with other social structures, such as family (with its marriage and inheritance systems), economy and the operation of political power. All these structures tend to reinforce each other, and if there is a change in one, the others are usually modified and adjusted to accommodate that change. The manner in which resources are allocated - among households in a community, and within households - is strongly influenced by these social structures. For example, in customary tenure systems the most influential social structure is family (lineage, marriage and inheritance systems), whereas in private property systems the decisive factor in allocating resources is the economy (market forces and commercial transactions).

Customary tenure systems contain many different rights to resources and they differ widely across regions and from one era to another. In general, customary tenure involves substantial community or corporate control of the access to natural resources and use of them. Household and individual property rights short of full ownership will apply to some types of land while other types of land will be held as common property.

It is important to distinguish between different rights of tenure, particularly between control of and access to resources. Control of resources means the command an individual or group has over assets, such as land, and over the benefits that derive from those assets. The right to control a resource is usually based on some form of ownership.[26] In contrast, access to resources means the permission to use or possibility of using an asset for carrying out particular activities. The right to access a resource does not necessarily include any decision-making power over the production process and use of the resource.

The bundle of rights concept is useful in understanding the complex structure of rights that different people have over resources, particularly land (Simpson, 1976; Bruce, 1998). Rights to use, sell, lease, mortgage, subdivide, lend out and bequeath can be likened to separate sticks in a bundle. In most societies, not all rights to a piece of land or to a tree, for example, are held by any one individual - different sticks are held by different individuals both within and across households, and some rights are held by the state or local governing body.

So the full benefits derived from a resource tend to come to whoever has control over, and not just access to, that resource. In fact, controlling and benefiting from the labour of those who have access to the resource is often one of the perks of having control over land. For example, sharecroppers in Colombia growing non-traditional cash crops such as pineapple, fresh beans and tomatoes have these marketed by the owner of the land. Higher profit margins for the landowner in selling these crops do not trickle down to increase the wages of sharecroppers; moreover, the sharecropper's family also has to work on the parcel to grow its own food, allowing the landowner to keep labour costs artificially low. Another example is found in the Gambia where Mandinka women tend neither to inherit land nor receive land allocations from community authorities. When a woman marries, her husband gives her cultivation rights to a plot of land. She cultivates the land to provide food and other goods for herself, her children and husband, but does not have other property rights to it such as the right to pass it on to her heirs. In addition, she is obliged to work on her husband's crops in exchange for these cultivation rights (Lastarria-Cornhiel 1997).

In most tenure systems, a variety of factors, including gender, determine a person's access to and control of resources, and in most regions and countries, women's rights to land ownership are much more restricted than men's rights. A country's constitutional and civil law may declare that men and women have equal rights, including inheritance rights and the right to own property; however, if cultural norms and practices are in conflict with these laws, women's rights are often ignored.

In many countries, in fact, cultural if not legal norms dictate that men are heads of household and as such are the owners of land. Where this is the case, women have access to land only through their relationship with a male relative, be it father, husband, brother, or even brother-in-law. The country case studies summarised in the Annex illustrate the prevalence of this norm, although its specifics vary from place to place. In Burkina Faso, for example, where most land is inherited, women do not inherit land and are dependent on their husbands for access to land on which to grow their crops. In Brazil, studies in rural areas have found that although legislation does not explicitly bar women from inheriting land, patrilineal cultural values result in inheritance practices favouring sons. In some Muslim countries in Asia and Africa, men and women have the legal right to own and inherit land in their own name, and spouses keep their inherited properties separate. However, the amount of land that daughters inherit is usually much smaller than that of their brothers, and often they may inherit only personal property, receiving no land at all. As a case in point, among Muslim communities in Senegal it was found that daughters do not in practice inherit land, although the religious norm indicates that they have some inheritance rights to family land. In Uzbekistan, another Muslim society, privatized land (albeit a small proportion of that country's terrain) is held under male title, with only sons inheriting family land.

In a very limited number of instances, both law and practice recognize that men and women have equal rights to property and that sons and daughters have equal inheritance rights. Examples include bilateral inheritance communities in Ecuador (Hamilton 1998), Kandyan Buddhists in Sri Lanka, various ethnic groups in Madagascar and some matrilineal societies in Asia and Africa. Even in matrilineal societies, land is often controlled by and handed from one generation of men to another (Lastarria-Cornhiel 2000). In matrilineal societies of Malawi and Mozambique, for instance, the norm is that only men can clear land, which in effect gives them control over this resource. Sometimes a woman can acquire land by having a male relative clear land for her, but usually it is men who have cleared and brought land into the family, and once land is in the lineage it is handed down to a young man from his maternal uncle. These matrilineal societies have been greatly modified over the last century and, under European and Muslim influence, have been evolving into patrilineal ones.

Attaining gender equity in land rights is as much dependent on overcoming social and cultural constraints as on legal recognition. The challenge in devising sound programmes that work toward gender equity is to note where cultural norms and practices, as well as socio-economic changes, may limit women's access to and control of land and natural resources. Policies and programmes need to work within the terms of the society in devising strategies to remove the gender imbalance.

Socio-economic changes often occur when commercial agricultural production or some other market-based economic activity becomes dominant in a particular area, making land an economic asset. Customary rules of tenure rapidly evolve to accommodate these economic shifts and land comes to be valued more for its market price than as a means of food security for smallholder families. This is particularly problematic when women who require land access to generate family income and feed their families find themselves in competition with persons who acquire land for commercial use. Several studies have shown that women's use of land tends to focus on meeting family survival needs while men's use of land leans towards production of cash crops or for speculation.

Institutions and land tenure systems

As noted above, women and men have three general mechanisms by which to obtain rights to land: through inheritance, purchase, or state intervention. To understand how these mechanisms function and how they facilitate or hinder access to and control of land, we need to examine the institutions behind them. In other words, we need to look at the functioning of socio-cultural institutions, the market economy and the state, in any given country or culture, before we can assess which set of institutions is most influential in determining land rights. Whether the context is a customary society, a capitalist economy or a bureaucratic state, however, all three sets of institutions influence and interact with each other in determining specific tenure relations.

Changes in land rights are sometimes brought about by the state, as happened in Eastern Europe during the 1990s where there was mass privatization of property. In many sub-Saharan countries, privatization of communal land has been and continues to be the result of market forces. Often there are conflicts or contradictions between socio-cultural institutions, the market economy and the state, or even between and within the institutions of which they are composed. For example, early efforts by the Kenyan state to privatize land met with resistance or indifference from rural communities, which continued to allocate and transfer land according to customary rules. Genuine privatization of land rights increasingly occurs as the market economy penetrates rural areas. Attempts to redistribute land in Latin America have often been deflected by economic forces that make land too expensive for reform programmes to acquire or smallholders to purchase. Land reform has also been undermined by powerful socio-economic sectors that dilute legislation or slow down implementation.

Contradictions and conflicts between and within institutions with regard to women's rights to land can also be found. As already mentioned, Muslim norms in Senegal (Platteau et al., 2000) allow daughters' inheritance rights to family property; inheritance practices, however, only pass land on to sons. Examples abound of customary norms and practices that deny women their rights to land in spite of legislation that guarantees women equal rights and state programmes designed to ensure the rights of women to land. Some of these will be analysed below.

The following sections aim to describe the role of state, market economy, and sociocultural institutions in determining land rights. Pursuing equitable policies, whether on gender issues generally or specifically relating to land tenure, necessitates dealing with each type of institution. While the case studies presented each focus on a particular set of institutions, the context for these analyses is that in any given society no single institution is solely determinant.

State institutions

The complex of institutions behind the state includes legislative bodies and implementing agencies such as land administration offices and agrarian reform agencies. The strength and stability of state institutions show considerable variation across societies and regions. Legislation on land rights, security of land tenure, or protection of natural resources has little effect if state institutions at local and national levels are not able to enforce laws and regulations. When procedures for land titling and registration are slack or inaccessible, for example, land rights are unlikely to be enforced and, instead, traditional or informal institutions will determine land rights. In a similar manner, forestry law may be designed to protect forested areas; however, if the relevant enforcement agencies do not have programmes with a strong local presence and legitimacy, local community needs and practices may conflict with national regulations.

In order to protect land rights, including the rights of women and of society as a whole, state institutions need a certain amount of visibility and internal coherence. The state also relies on the mechanisms it has put in place for carrying out legal mandates, establishing policies and implementing programmes. How national and local agencies interact, how civil service and programme personnel at all levels are selected and trained, and how gender equity objectives for each level of an institution are determined are all potential sources of contradiction in official state policy. Contradictions can be found in cases such as:

Below are two illustrative and contrasting cases of the effect of state institutions on land tenure, land-holding structure and women's land rights. In Nicaragua, strong state support for women's rights to land has resulted in significantly increased numbers of women with legal title to land. In Uzbekistan, on the other hand, while law and state rhetoric uphold women's and men's equal rights, the failure to translate this principle into policies and integrate these into programmes is allowing patriarchal values to determine who is accessing land and receiving land rights.

Joint titling in Nicaragua

Nicaragua has made appreciable progress in increasing the number of women landowners through joint titling programmes. This reflects a strong political will on the part of national government and state institutions during the 1980s and more particularly during the first half of the 1990s to promote gender equity in land rights.

The concern of the state during the 1980s to attain gender equity resulted in agencies and organizations turning their attention to women's rights. Legislation introduced in 1981 to support various land tenure programmes - including the establishment of cooperatives and state farms, and distribution of land to landless families - in each case specifically reiterated that men and women have equal rights to benefit from the programme and related services, and to participate in agricultural production (Galan 1998). More broadly, the 1987 Constitution explicitly states that women and men have equal rights. Some programmes prioritized female heads of household for benefits and services (Ceci 2000, 2001), a radical departure from government programmes the world over, which have commonly ignored or discriminated against female-headed households.

There was a significant improvement in women's land rights during the 1990s as a result of the land-titling programme. Law 209, which came into effect in 1995, stated that men and women had the equal right to receive land titles, and also established the option for couples to apply for joint title to land. The principle of joint titling was strengthened in 1997 by making it compulsory for families receiving titles for land distributed under state agrarian reforms to be issued in the names of both spouses (Law 278, Article 49).

As a result of this legislation and the vigorous dissemination, training, and promotion of joint titling that accompanied it, the number of women with legal rights to land has dramatically increased. Data cited by Ceci (2000: 28 - 29) show that while only 10 percent of all land titles were issued to women during the 1980s, between 1992 and 1996, 25 percent of all land titles were issued to female recipients,[27] and between 1997 and 2000 that figure increased to 42 percent.

To put the Nicaraguan achievement into context, these figures can be compared to other countries where legislation recognizes gender equality, including where land rights are concerned, but state institutions have not begun the process of incorporating gender equity goals into their programmes. For example, a 1996 study in Brazil revealed that only 12.6 percent of land beneficiaries under agrarian reform were women. In Indonesia, where land acquired by a married couple is supposed to be jointly titled, a systematic titling/registration programme functioning since 1993 has registered joint ownership for just 1.5 percent to 3 percent of land parcels - as government officials have shown great reluctance to issue land certificates in both names, preferring to name only the husband (World Bank 1999).

Return to patriarchy in Uzbekistan

At the other end of the spectrum from Nicaragua, Uzbekistan illustrates what tends to happen when state institutions and programmes take no specific action on women's rights to property and economic opportunity. This inaction in Uzbekistan has meant that it is largely men who are in a position to acquire rights to land during privatization, a process that is facilitating the resurgence of patriarchal land rights.

A former republic of the Soviet Union, Uzbekistan is undergoing a relatively gradual transition from centralized to market-based property ownership and production. While maintaining state ownership over most farmland, management of agricultural production and land is being privatized in the sense that responsibility is shifting from the state to rural households. Agricultural collectives have ceased to function as production enterprises, the land has been divided and leased out to families through a number of schemes, and unpaid family labour has largely replaced wage labour and machinery. Some of these leases resemble contract-farming arrangements (Kandiyoti 2003).

At the beginning of the privatization process, all members of a collective were given leases for specific parcels of collective land. Most of these parcels were very small because of high population density. State-owned collectives continued to provide some services such as provision of inputs (e.g. seed, extension services, fertilizer) and farm machinery. A recent development in the way that state enterprises lease out land is to hand over comprehensive management of medium-sized parcels within the collective under long-term leases of 10 to 50 years to what are called independent farmers. The state does not provide farm services under these leases, and the application and screening process favours the selection of trained and experienced farmers. Kandiyoti reveals that a large proportion of independent farmers are the former - male - managers and technicians of collectives. They are given parcels with collective leasehold families already working them. In other words, they acquire land with sitting tenants. Independent farmers tend to retain these sitting tenants to provide labour for meeting production quotas. In some cases, work relations approach sharecropper conditions. Kandiyoti speculates that in the near future, independent farmers will find themselves forced to lay off these tenant farmers in order to cut costs and make a profit.

Although privatization of agricultural production has not yet made individuals or families owners of the land they work, they are gaining more control over the land and assuming the management of it (within the constraints of procurement policies, input delivery, and social relations). What is clear from Kandiyoti's study is that, in keeping with Uzbek cultural norms, men are in control of land: leasehold contracts and the household parcel are overwhelmingly in the name of the male head of household. Very few women are granted leases or management of farms.

Uzbek families are patrilineal and patriarchal; married couples live with the husband's family until they get a house plot from the collective. The family home is inherited by the son that stays on to take care of the parents, usually the youngest son. Women have access to land through the household and provide most of the unpaid family labour that goes into food production on these plots. However, this does not give women de jure nor de facto rights to the land. If and when land is privatized further and private property rights are granted to household parcels, men will receive title to that land. Since inheritance is also patrilineal, male control over landed property is unlikely to change.

The strength of this resurgence of Uzbek cultural norms with regard to women's roles and status, with so many women now returning to unpaid family labour within the home, indicates that these values persisted under socialist administration. It also illustrates what happens when state policies focus on granting certain benefits to women as caretakers and not on attaining gender equity. While the socialist state promoted policies that benefited women, such as paid maternity leave and maternal health services, their objective was to protect women as mothers and as workers, not as independent and equal citizens.

Under current state policy, the focus is still on women as producers of children and as family workers (even though social and health benefits have been drastically reduced or eliminated) and much of the rhetoric refers to women as representing traditional values. The state does not appear concerned that women are not sharing with men the opportunity to acquire lease rights to state land, and there is no recognition that this will put women at a great disadvantage when ownership rights are privatized.

Market economy institutions

Institutions that support the market economy play a significant role in determining land rights. Market economies are generally based on rights to private property and the marketability of those rights. Land, like any other asset, is usually acquired through the market (through leasing or buying and selling) at market values. Other productive factors such as capital and labour are also acquired via the market at values set by the market.

During the 1990s, most formerly-socialist states began the process of transition towards becoming market economies. Elsewhere, such as sub-Saharan Africa, a different type of transition is occurring as private and individual property rights and a market economy replace community-based land rights and subsistence production. Almost everywhere, the increasing dominance of the market economy is characterized by financial interactions that are more dependent on global-level needs and demands than on local or even national dynamics. An economy based on responding to the market, particularly when the market is global, discards other rationalizations or motivations for organizing the economy, such as production and distribution of goods, and determining rights to land. So the importance of ensuring access to land for all households in the community recedes in favour of attempts by those who can pay the market price to gain access to the market. In addition, as capital markets become more globalized, owners of capital require private property rights that give them almost complete control over property[28] and the flexibility to sell, lease, or mortgage it. Equity, including gender equity, is not a concern of market economies; economic efficiency is in theory the overriding criterion for determining production and ownership structures. Issues such as equity are generally dealt with in policies and programmes that seek to soften the impact of market forces.

Brazil provides a clear illustration of a land tenure structure that has long responded to market forces and the needs of agribusiness. Land access mechanisms have not been responsive to the needs of most land-poor rural families, in addition to which socio-cultural values narrow still further the opportunities for women to obtain land rights in spite of legislation that guarantees equal property rights for women and men.

Market and patriarchy in Brazil

Since the 1960s, agricultural policy in Brazil has aggressively promoted commercial farming, and in particular agribusiness, not only in traditionally agricultural regions but also in Brazil's frontier areas. Subsidized credit and subsidies for plant and equipment such as farm machinery as well as agricultural infrastructure programmes and tax credits encouraged the growth of large commercial agricultural enterprises. A highly capitalized and commercial agriculture developed on the base of an already concentrated landholding structure that expanded its frontiers as substantial numbers of landless and land-poor rural dwellers were pushed off the land. The land ownership structure further narrowed as small landholders lost out to large producers and rural workers were replaced with machinery.

The industrial recession of the 1980s had its impact on the agricultural sector as commercial farms faced high debts and low profits. This crisis together with social and political demands by the land-poor resulted in the introduction of an ambitious agrarian reform programme. Opposition limited the scope of the programme to public land and the expropriation of unproductive large estates. Changing the conditions of compensation from property tax-based to market based further reduced the programme's impact. The most recent wave of agrarian reform programmes, initiated during the mid-1990s, was informed by social justice criteria to a greater extent than previous reforms had been, but the scope of reform remained limited. This reform was characterized by continuing to pay high compensation for expropriated land and adopting the market-assisted land reform model for certain areas in the northeastern region.

Women in Brazil have historically had minimal access to land. Although legislation does not explicitly bar women from inheriting land, cultural practice among landholders is that sons (and in some cases only the younger son) rather than daughters inherit it. While more women than men are moving to urban areas, the number of female-headed households in rural areas has nevertheless increased; these households make up a disproportionate share of rural families in the lowest per capita income bracket.

In common with most legal systems, Brazilian law has not developed in a genderneutral way, and has been explicitly discriminatory against women in a number of areas. During the last few decades, these explicit references have been eliminated. Legal language has almost always been in the masculine gender, with the implicit assumption that it included both women and men; in general, this language discrimination has not been corrected. Barsted (2001) points out that language is sometimes ambiguous with regard to gender, facilitating cultural interpretations that favour men. Another form of legal discrimination has been the assumption that a household had only one head and that this would be a man. Some legislation has been modified to allow that both spouses in a household are considered heads and have equal rights. This is not unique to Brazil: recent decades have seen many other countries including Colombia, South Africa, Nicaragua, Uganda, and Guatemala approving legislation that recognizes the equal rights of women and men, wives and husband, daughters and sons.

Gender equity received a boost in Brazilian law with the 1988 Constitution, which explicitly guaranteed equal application of rights under labour laws for rural and urban women and men, permanent and temporary workers, and paid and unpaid family workers. Prior to that, there had been piecemeal improvements on the 1916 Civil Code; for example, the 1962 statutes for married women replaced language that designated the husband as only and complete head of household with authority over wife and children. The fact that the language of the 1988 Constitution was genderspecific dramatically altered the legal basis for challenging statutes and specific articles in the Civil Code, Family Law, and in other legislation such as contract and commercial law that discriminated against women.

As previously noted, women have traditionally been excluded from property ownership. Sons tend to inherit land and property from their fathers; wives and daughters generally do not inherit property, so men rather than women are seen as property holders. Agrarian reform - on paper and on the ground - initially followed this cultural practice, together with Civil Code concepts and language, by targeting land distribution and its associated credit and technical assistance programmes at male heads of household. At length, it was established that, with regard to land granted by the state, Article 189 of the 1988 Constitution conferred ownership and use rights to men and women equally. The law now explicitly states that women and men have equal rights to land, independent of their marital status, and can be titled either as individuals or jointly. It is difficult to determine the impact of this legislation on practice as the agrarian reform agency does not record the gender of its beneficiaries or programme participants. However, the 1996 Agrarian Reform Census revealed that only 12.6 percent of beneficiaries to land, at that stage, were women.

As Barsted (2001) and others have observed, the obstacles to integrating gender-related concerns into agricultural debates and programmes are of varying types. Legal constraints are now minimal, with the exception of gender-biased language and the ongoing tendency to refer to household heads in the masculine gender. The social and cultural constraints are more serious, with patriarchal norms and values permeating state and civil organizations, constraining the adoption of a gender focus and the promotion of gender equity. State land distribution programmes have the patriarchal family farm as their implicit model, where the male household head is the owner and manager of the enterprise and makes all the major decision regarding the family and the farm. Since this family-farm model is implicit and common to rural residents, policy makers and programme implementers, it is seldom challenged.

Civil organizations and movements directed at improving social and economic conditions tend to focus on class (the landless and rural poor) and/or family issues (health, education), ignoring gender inequities, particularly within the household. Households and community organizations do not normally question these patriarchal values and practices. Although rural women have been very active in the struggle for land,[29] when land is distributed and land titles are issued, men have become the property owners and women have assumed their traditional role within the patriarchal family.

Socio-cultural institutions

In societies where customary practices and traditional social structures dominate, land rights tend to be determined by socio-cultural or religious institutions rather than being based on private property. Customary tenure systems are diverse, as are the property relations and rights they embody. Rights to land ownership are often vested in the community or other corporate structure such as a lineage or clan. In fact, a significant proportion of the land is controlled by the group rather than individuals, and managed according to community rules. Members of the community may have different types of rights to natural resources depending on their lineage, ethnicity, status, gender, and marital situation, and when land is allocated to individuals on a long-term basis, it tends to be in the form of parcels for food production, building a home or rearing animals. Rights to these parcels are generally inheritable. How this land is initially allocated to households depends on the particular customary system, but most land parcels under individual or household control are transferred though inheritance, not on the market.

Inheritance rights and practices are usually patrilineal or matrilineal. In patrilineal inheritance, land is generally handed down from father to son. If a man does not have a son, his property is most likely inherited by his brother, nephew, or another male relative of his lineage. A widow, particularly if she has children, is permitted to stay on and work her dead husband's land until her sons are able to take over its management. Daughters do not inherit land from their fathers, even though they are of the same lineage. The cultural norm is that daughters leave their birth community and family, when they marry, to live in their husband's community. Since wives are under the responsibility of their husband and family, it is felt that if women inherited land in their birth community, their husband's family and lineage would obtain control over it.

Inheritance practices in matrilineal societies are more diverse. In some matrilineal communities, for example in Malaysia (Stivens 1985) and India (Agarwal 1988), lineage and property are traced through the mother's line and land is passed on from mother to daughter. In other matrilineal communities, for example in southeastern Africa, although lineage and property are traced through the mother's line, land is generally passed from maternal uncle to nephew. In addition, rights to land and other resources are more diffuse in matrilineal societies; land and other wealth tends to be distributed and re-distributed among lineage members through inheritance. These practices appear to favour the extended family and impede concentration of wealth, including landed wealth. As the market economy exerts its influence by making production practices more labour-intensive and market-oriented, there is a tendency for matrilineal societies to become less extended and more nuclear, for property rights to become less diffused and more concentrated, and for families to adopt patrilineal inheritance practices.

The contrasting country studies below illustrate the influence exerted over women's land rights by socio-cultural institutions. A form of customary land tenure prevails in Burkina Faso; whereas in South Africa, where market relations, private property, and commercial agricultural production are strong, patriarchal values and practices persist.

Persistence of customary tenure in Burkina Faso

The case study for Burkina Faso focused on its dominant ethnic and cultural group, the Mossi. Mossi land tenure and family structures are patrilineal, which means that family lines, land ownership, and inheritance are traced up through the father's lineage and down through sons. This patrilineal culture determines marriage practices and who has control of land. Rights to land belong primarily to corporate groups such as communities and lineages; the men within these groups control land, deciding who can have access to specific parcels. This customary land tenure system is still strong and is practised in most rural areas even though land has been legally owned by the state since 1984.[30] Some groups that traditionally would not be favoured under customary systems, such as junior men and women, are in theory able to acquire rights to access land, and there is no specific legislation to prevent women from doing so. In practice, though, it would appear that few women have been able to obtain these indirect access rights. Legislation in Burkina Faso, as in many other countries, tends to complement traditional community power structures, allowing gender inequities to continue and be reproduced.

Platteau et al.'s study (2000) in Burkina Faso reveals that while population growth is putting some pressure on land availability, and customary marriage practices have been affected by the participation of girls and boys in formal education, women's access to land remains unaffected. Inheritance is still the principal means of obtaining land, as increasing scarcity of land has not reached the point at which it becomes a marketable asset. Platteau et al. also found a strong survival of the practice of granting unmarried women - including widows, divorced and separated women, and single mothers - access and temporary rights to use land controlled by their birth family lineage. Cultural influence from outside the community appears to be changing the way women view marriage, although actual practices lag behind these changing views. The right to control land passes from father to son. Women do not own or control land; they are able to obtain rights to use land from their husbands or fathers. In this case study, 69 percent of the women interviewed had secured the use of their own plot from their husband. Production and income from that plot is theirs to dispose of although they tend to use the land to grow fd for the family. Women may also borrow land from another household and cultivate it; however, their rights on this land are very tenuous and they are normally not permitted to make any productive investment on it such as planting trees. Needless to say, yields from these borrowed plots are not high.

Although most Mossi families are Muslim and in theory daughters inherit land (albeit a fraction of the share their brothers inherit), in practice it appears that the sociocultural norm[31] prevails over religious norms and only sons inherit land from their birth family. At most, daughters are given temporary rights to use their father's land if they leave their husband's home in the event of widowhood, divorce or separation. Single daughters with children also have these temporary rights, but the expectation is that a daughter will marry and leave her birth family and community, beyond which her birth family is not required to make provision for her.

Platteau et al. examine a number of marriage customs among the Mossi to determine whether changes in these practices have had any impact on women's rights to land. These customs include marriage payment by husband (also called brideprice or brideswealth), age of spouses at time of marriage, polygamy, and levirate marriage. The Platteau et al. study confirmed that some practices around marriage are changing - for example, they found a growing general opposition to polygamy - and that these changes appear to derive from influences external to the community and culture such as education, particularly for women. Platteau et al. conclude that these modifications are not due to changes in the land tenure system since ownership is still vested in the community and lineages, land scarcity is not yet a problem, and land rights have not been individualized.

For the time being, then, women can still count on the basic security of returning to their birth family, that is to their father's or brother's land, if their marriage arrangement falls apart. Longer term, according to Pander (2000), what appears to be happening is that irrigation development projects in Burkina Faso have put more land, with higher yields, under men's sole control. Under customary tenure systems, men control the rights to the irrigated plots, just as they did with undeveloped land. However, it seems that women sometimes lose customary rights to use their husband's land when it is affected by these projects. The intensive demands of growing cash crops such as cotton mean that women are still expected to provide part of the family labour for these plots.

Customary tenure systems provide women with some basic security in situations when they are not living with a husband. In situations where community land for agricultural production and inheritance is being allocated, customary tenure systems tend to favour men. As already noted, customary tenure systems tend not to recognize individual private property of land; however, it is generally the men in the community who control the land, particularly in patrilineal societies. This puts men in a position to claim individual rights when land scarcity converts it into an asset and when family land becomes private property. When this happens, a woman not only faces losing the rights to use her husband's land, but is also unlikely to be able to claim temporary use rights to birth family land because their brothers will claim individual and private rights to the land they inherit from their fathers.

Implementation of gender equity in South Africa

The South African experience illustrates some of the difficulties encountered in operating and implementing policies mandated to promote gender equity in agrarian reform programmes. These difficulties underscore the strength of socio-cultural norms and practices, and the tremendous obstacle they present to achieving gender equity. The post-apartheid South African state has stated explicitly its commitment to gender equity in most of its legislation and policy documents. For example, Chapter One of the 1996 Constitution establishes gender equality as a basic principle and establishes a Commission on gender equality. The 1997 guiding document for the land reform programme, White Paper on South African Land Policy, also explicitly states that women are to be given equal access to benefits deriving from land reform, in the following terms: "It is essential that gender equity be ensured in the land redistribution and land reform programme so that women achieve a fair and equitable benefit." Land reform guidelines and procedures to identify beneficiaries, however, do not include gender objectives or institutional mechanisms to ensure gender equity.

Official state policy to attain gender equity in land distribution has been hindered in the following ways.

While pronouncements on national agrarian reform policy articulate the importance of gender equity in apportioning land and other resources and services, district and local level offices do not have the mechanisms and tools to implement this gender policy. As Walker (2001) has pointed out, programme implementation, guideline documents, and procedures do not ensure that gender is included and integrated into land reform projects. Surprisingly, officials are often unaware that tenure security for women is of primary and specific concern and a prime objective of the agrarian reform programme. Consequently there is minimal accountability and monitoring of results to judge the impact of the gender equity policy on women's direct and secure rights to land. For instance, officials at district and local levels currently collect information only on the number of female-headed households receiving land and on the number of women on community land reform project committees (Walker 2001: 35 - 36).

Senegalese women are aware of the Muslim law that gives them rights to some family land and even know that they are entitled to inherit according to Islamic codes, yet despite this, research results confirmed that daughters do not inherit land. Another hindrance is the lack of participation of women's groups in carrying out land distribution programmes and in discussions on the patriarchal nature of traditional authorities, tenure systems and community practices. The scant presence of women's organizations in rural areas and the absence of training land reform officials receive on gender issues are contributing factors. There has been additional pressure to process land reform applications and to distribute large extensions of land as quickly as possible with limited resources. The political pressure to re-distribute land quickly[32] has not permitted land reform agencies and civil institutions the time and space to incorporate gender equity objectives, which require a process of consciousness-raising at all levels. According to Walker, land reform agency officials have not generally realized that gender issues and priorities have been neglected, although some officials have articulated the need for practical guidelines on how to implement the land reform programme gender policy.

Underlying these implementation and organizational constraints, a major problem with implementing gender equity policies - not only in South Africa but in many countries - is the basic power relations that structure access to land. These hierarchical and patriarchal power structure perpetuate the dominance of men in positions of community authority and as allocators and owners of land. If power relations are not taken into consideration and gender concerns not specifically integrated, agrarian reform programmes will be implemented without recognizing and addressing local power relations and customary practices that tend to exclude women.

The question remains: how does a state programme reconcile democratic standards and local participation when local social structures are not democratic?

Cultural constraints to gender equity in land rights

The above analysis on institutional determinants of land rights explored the dynamics of state, market economy, and socio-cultural institutions. Each type of institution presents opportunities to achieve gender equity in land rights, as well as obstacles. Examples from the case studies generally focused on obstacles, although some positive situations were presented. While the obstacles presented by state and economic institutions are not insignificant, perhaps the most problematic are the constraints contained in socio-cultural institutions. All of these institutions relate to each other, of course, and changes in one set of institutions will necessarily affect the rest of a society's institutions and structures. Modifications in power structures often accompany institutional changes, but the question is whether these changes in institutions, structures, and power relations bring about increased equity within a society. As we have seen, state institutions can mandate legal recognition of equal rights for women and men, but this legal recognition has to be accompanied by adjustments in social norms that validate those rights, and by economic mechanisms and structures that promote equity, before practices based on equal rights will be adopted. It is not sufficient for one set of institutions to recognize gender equity; changes need to happen and be coordinated within all three institutional structures.

Perhaps the most persistent obstacles to improving gender equity in land rights have their roots in patriarchal values and practices. These tend to survive and flourish in capitalist and socialist societies alike,[33] perpetuating unremunerated labour and lower wages for women, along with passive compliance to these work conditions. In Uzbekistan, for example, the majority of workers laid off from collectives have been women. They have become unpaid family labour on the farm leaseholds signed by their fathers, husbands, or fathers-in-law, or have become casual workers, often for inkind wages and no social benefits. Kandiyoti (2003) also mentions that women tend to be paid lower wages than men: male rice harvesters in one of the collectives received twice the daily wage of the women. It is not unusual for employers to hire only young, single women or women with particular physical features, or to lay off pregnant women.

The patriarchal family maintains its image as a legitimate and immutable institution while operating to defuse or invalidate women's demands. Political opposition to gender equity is often concealed as protection of cultural values, and interprets attempts to improve women's rights and their status as challenges to the traditional family. The recognition of women's equal rights introduces modifications in existing power relations, leading to further changes in the traditional ways decision are made and undermining stereotypes of a gender-based division of labour.

Since patriarchal values are based on gender stereotypes common at community level and within the household, it is difficult to pinpoint and reveal them as discriminatory. Still today, women are often thought of as housewives; and their agricultural work in the field, harvesting, transporting, storing and processing is considered an extension of their home duties and tasks, not productive work. As Ceci observed in Nicaragua (2001), cultural values and practices do not view women as independent and productive citizens, and programme implementers and the rural population continue to consider men as the decision-makers and production managers. Even though legislative reform and land distribution programmes may mandate gender equity, socio-cultural norms and practices place constraints on women's abilities to exercise their legal property rights.

Contributing to the difficulty of eliminating gender bias are the significant social costs women bear if they go against cultural norms - from social ridicule to the prospect of losing what social benefits women in patriarchal communities enjoy. As the cases of South Africa and Uzbekistan show, women are reluctant to act independent of male heads of household and community leaders. The extended patriarchal family provides a structure for the life-long basic welfare of all family members and for assistance in times of social or economic crisis. This is particularly significant for resource-poor rural women with young children.

Discriminatory or oppressive tenure relations may continue to be preferred by the landless and land-poor, including women, because of associated benefits in kind or because challenging them would be socially costly. For example, a sharecropping arrangement may be preferable to renting land because the owner of the land also provides inputs, machinery, or credit, which are otherwise difficult or impossible to obtain Similarly, a daughter may give up her claims to inherited land in favour of her brother in order to maintain access to potential benefits from her male relatives and the support system of an extended family. Uzbekistan is a case in point, where in spite of Muslin inheritance norms that entitle daughters to inherit some family land, they in fact do not inherit any land at all. While most Uzbek land is still state-owned, households do hold long-term rights to small household parcels that they may use as they please, to grow food and even cash crops, raise animals, or build a house. These household parcels are inherited and the custom is for the youngest son to stay at home with the parents and take over the parcel. Sisters concede their rights to brothers in order to avoid conflict and so as not to lose the support of the extended family.

The socio-cultural costs of obtaining direct access to land may discourage women from demanding equal land rights, even where laws mandate equal rights and state programmes do not exclude women as beneficiaries. Wives and daughters may be reluctant to have their name included on the title to household land because of the potential conflict it would cause with her husband or family. In Brazil, for example, few women are aware of whose name is on the land title and rarely request that joint titles be issued. There may also be financial costs that women would prefer to avoid such as payment of land taxes. These self-imposed constraints may disappear or become less onerous for women if other structural and institutional opportunities are available and if appropriate training is offered.

Women may be reluctant to become visibly involved in political activities and community organizations for several reasons: lack of experience in public speaking and participation at meetings, lack of basic education and knowledge about how things function, and domestic responsibilities which no one else will take on. The case studies show that women in Brazil and in South Africa, for example, feel uncomfortable speaking in public meetings because men and even other women may ridicule them. South African women seldom voice their thoughts at local land reform meetings and usually support what their husbands and other men propose (Walker 2001). Local organizations and institutions in many regions of the world continue to be hierarchical and patriarchal. The reins of power are held by certain men who have little interest in facilitating modes of cooperation, management and communication in which all community members, including women, can participate.

As a result, a woman farm worker may be reluctant to accept a supervisory position in her workplace or a leadership position within the local farmer organizations. The additional workload may be an issue, but the potential reaction of her fellow male and female workers, and how she will juggle her family responsibilities are major considerations. Sensitivity and training in gender consciousness can reduce some of these obstacles. Other types of obstacle may be harder to overcome. For instance, Kandiyoti (2003) reported that Uzbek men prohibit women in their households, particularly younger women, from going to community meetings and public places such as the local marketplace. Women may be reluctant to behave in culturally unacceptable ways because of the risk of exposing themselves to social conflicts.

Another difficulty is the low level of involvement by social and political movements that might otherwise be well placed to integrate rural women's rights. Rural women's demands are not included in the agenda of most women's rights movements, owing to differences and distance between urban and rural women, urban and rural movements, and between claims by workers and peasant producers. Women's rights movements tend to focus on urban women workers and working conditions; their neglect of rural women's different needs and problems was reported in Brazil and South Africa (Walker 2000).

Final remarks: some relevant regional features for women's rights to land

The above analysis has looked at gender and land rights in Brazil, Nicaragua, Senegal, Burkina Faso, South Africa and Uzbekistan. There are some regional themes to be drawn out from these six country case studies. By outlining the different institutional combinations and historical development found in Latin America, sub-Saharan Africa and Central Asia, we intend to draw conclusions relevant to women's development in the future.

Latin America

The land tenure structure in Latin America is generally characterized by its concentrated land ownership: a small proportion of farms own a large proportion of agricultural land, which is also the best arable land. After decades of attempts with variable success, from the 1960s to the 1980s, to re-distribute land to the land-poor and the landless in Latin America, the 1980s and 1990s have seen an abandonment, if not a retrenchment, of agrarian reform programmes. Lack of political will at local and national levels and lack of international support, together with the failure of reform sector farms to become vibrant, market-oriented production units, contributed to this abandonment. The debate on why this was the case is still very active. It is clear, however, that lack of state and private support for these struggling farms, lack of entrepreneurial experience on the part of new landowners and international market barriers that prevent agricultural producers in developing regions from exploiting their comparative advantage, as well as internal negative dynamics (such as problems with management structures) in the case of group production models all contributed to these failures.

Agrarian reform has been replaced with land market programmes and land titling and registration. State and international support for these programmes is usually based on the assumption that land titling and registration confers security of tenure on landowners and gives them access to credit. This encourages long-term investment in farm enterprises and activates the market in land as a commodity. The theory goes that an efficient and dynamic land market in turn puts land into the hands of efficient producers and in this way re-distributes land from unproductive landowners to more efficient farmers. The reality in Latin America, however, has been that there is no commercial credit available to small farmers. In spite of land titles, small producers are no longer able to access production credit. And those who want to buy land on the market cannot find long-term financing at rates they can afford. (Molina 2000, on El Salvador; Strasma et al. 2000, on Nicaragua, among others.)

The most recent wave of agrarian reform programmes was initiated during the mid- 1990s. Objectives for these reforms were influenced more by criteria for social justice than previous reforms had been, although their scope was still very limited. Brazil and Nicaragua are good examples of what these reforms resulted in. In general, they continued to pay high compensation for expropriated land. Brazil specifically adopted the market-assisted land reform model for certain areas of the northeast. More recently, implementation of agrarian reform has been decentralized resulting in a series of regional or provincial-level reform programmes. With few exceptions, the agrarian reform sector consists of family farm enterprises; attempts to organize agricultural production around group ownership and management has had limited success. The focus on family farms unfortunately has as its implicit model the patriarchal family.

Most countries in Latin America have made great strides during the 1980s and 1990s in reforming and modifying statutes and codes to recognize women and men's equal rights, often including specific language regarding gender equity. (See, for instance, Deere and Leon 2000, 2001; Galan 1998; FAO 1995, 1996). Thus for example, most constitutions passed during those two decades specifically state that men and women have equal rights. Civil codes, particularly those that deal with family law, inheritance, and marital property have also been modified to make specific statements of equality of rights for women and men, whether legally married or in consensual unions (common law marriages). Agrarian law, with few exceptions, has been less responsive to demands for gender equity. While some of the general articles of agrarian laws may mention equal rights, the language in general is oriented towards men and male heads of household. Nicaragua is one of the exceptions, mandating for example that all property titles for agrarian reform land be issued to both spouses (Ceci 2000).

Girls and young women in the rural sector tend to have higher educational levels than young men. Legislation in Brazil does not explicitly bar women from inheriting land but sons - in some cases only the younger son - almost always come to inherit the land. These two factors may help to explain why more women than men are moving to urban areas. Another factor that may or may not be related is that the number of female-headed households in rural areas has also increased, and these households make up a disproportionate share of rural families in the lowest per capita income levels.

Women in Brazil have traditionally been excluded from property ownership. Sons inherit land and property from their fathers; wives and daughters generally do not inherit property. As property ownership has not been associated with women, agrarian reform legislation and procedures initially followed this cultural practice (and Civil Code concepts and language) by directing land distribution, and related services such as credit and technical assistance, towards the male household head. Article 189 of the 1988 Constitution confers equal ownership and rights to use land granted by the state; women and men have equal land rights, independent of their marital status, and can be titled either as individuals or jointly

What has been important for rural women is the acquisition of certain documents, in particular the Nota do Produtor Rural, which identifies a person as an agricultural producer. Previously only male household heads were able to apply for this document; one of the achievements of feminist and labour organizations during the 1980s and 1990s was to force a recognition that women were also producers and had the right to apply for and receive the Nota do Produtor Rural. This document not only gives rural women visibility but also allows access to many services and benefits such as production credit, maternity leave, retirement benefits, and eligibility to participate in agrarian reform programmes.

As Barsted (2001) has observed, obstacles to integrating gender into agricultural debates and programmes have various sources. Legal constraints are now minimal, with the exception of language and some articles in agrarian legislation such as the focus on male household heads. Social and cultural constraints still figure large. Culturally, Brazilian society, as in most Latin American countries, is based on the patriarchal family. Patriarchal norms and values permeate state and civil organizations, constraining the adoption of a gender focus and the promotion of gender equity. State programmes still target the male head of household. Organizations and movements tend to be directed at improving social and economic conditions, making class or family issues their prime concern, and undervaluing the relevance of gender inequities. Community organizations and households do not normally question patriarchal values and practices; neither do individuals.

Nicaragua stands out as a Latin American country that has made significant progress in increasing the number of women landowners through joint titling programmes. This reflects a strong political will on the part of national government during the 1980s and particularly during the first half of the 1990s to promote gender equity in land rights.

The counter-reform of the 1990s halted land distribution and privatized agricultural cooperatives and state farms (Galan 1998). Governments in the 1990s also prioritized the regularization of land ownership through land titling efforts. There were no significant re-distribution programmes, with the exception of land assigned to excombatants of the 1980s civil conflict, and the only way to obtain access to land was to buy or inherit.

It has not been viable for the rural poor and for women to obtain land on the market. The macro-economic situation in Latin America did not begin to improve until the mid-1990s, and there were scant resources to finance agricultural production. State agencies cut back services to agriculture dramatically and commercial institutions did not fill in the gap, at least not to the small landholding sector. While there was a thriving land market during the 1990s, resource-poor farmers were unable to participate because there were no financial resources for land purchases -neither the state nor commercial banks offered long-term mortgage credit. Economic difficulties experienced by the smallholder sector prompted many to sell rather than buy land. Many of the buyers were from other countries, particularly other Central American countries.

Again, Nicaragua stands out among Latin American countries for its relatively more equitable (or, at least, less concentrated) land distribution structure. This is attributable to a lower population density compared to many countries, particularly in Central America, and to agrarian reform programmes, which redistributed land during the 1980s and 1990s. Another distinguishing characteristic of the Nicaraguan case is the confused legal status of many properties resulting from agrarian reform and counterreform. For almost a decade now, land administration agencies have been attempting to regularize tenure status among beneficiaries of agrarian reform and those whose land was expropriated during the 1980s who have now reclaimed their properties.

While Latin American women have been able to participate in land tenure programmes, numbers of direct beneficiaries among these women is disappointingly low. One factor is that state and NGO programmes have focused primarily on urban women; few resources have been targeted at rural women. At root, though, cultural values and practices do not view women as independent and productive citizens, so programme implementers and the rural population continue to consider men as the decision-makers and production managers. Some programme regulations have accentuated the stereotype by permitting only one person per household to benefit. For example, land titles issued under the 1981 agrarian reform law in Nicaragua were titled to individuals, not to families (Ceci 2001: 10). Cultural norms dictate that the chosen individual would be the male head of household whenever present. If women received land or joined agricultural cooperatives or were recognized as full-time and permanent farm workers, it was almost always because they were widows, divorced, or single women; in other words, sole heads of household.

In general, while the legal conditions for gender equity have greatly improved in Latin America, there are still two great constraints to attaining equity. One is the continued male focus of most rural organizations, including agricultural programmes that provide production credit, technical assistance and training. A number of reviews during the 1990s (FAO 1995, 1996; Fundación Arias 1996) highlighted rural women's low level of participation in production and service programmes, and in rural organizations. The other constraint relates to patriarchal norms and practices, taking it for granted that men head the household and own family property such as land. Such assumed rights mask the contribution of women to the family livelihood and undermine the reasoning in support of women's equal rights, especially property rights.

Sub-Saharan Africa

In contrast with Latin America, land tenure systems in sub-Saharan Africa generally have not suffered from great concentration of ownership and control in the recent past, and customary law has been dominant in their organization and functioning. Both of these characteristics are changing gradually. Commercialization of agriculture and growing populations are contributing to scarcity of land - particularly of good arable land within reach of markets, and to a conversion from customary property rights to private property ownership.

The country case studies for this region indicate the great diversity of agricultural production and land tenure systems. Strong customary systems continue to operate in Senegal and Burkina Faso, with changes occurring gradually within that context. In some areas, agricultural development programmes financed by international and state agencies are promoting commercial agriculture and market relations but these attempts are not always successful. State institutions, particularly in rural areas, are weak or non-existent. As yet it is not clear how those changes that are occurring will affect the land tenure system and women's land rights.

In common with other sub-Saharan countries, Senegal's customary land tenure systems have been experiencing change as a result of agricultural development programmes such as irrigation projects during the last several decades. Such developments bring about a shift from extensive to intensive agricultural production, an individualization of land rights accompanied by a decline in the control traditional authorities have over land, and an increase in leasing or lending of productive land to individuals or enterprises outside the community.

The land tenure and family structures studied in Senegal are patrilineal, which means that family lines, land ownership, and inheritance are traced up through the father's lineage and down through sons, determining marriage and inheritance practices, and who has control of land. This system occasionally conflicts with Muslim law, which, for example, gives women inheritance rights to some family land, whereas there is no such tradition in the cultural practices that prevail in Senegal. Research results confirm that in actuality daughters do not inherit land. (Platteau et al. 2000: 17) Rights to land belong primarily to corporate groups such as communities and lineages; within these groups, men control the land and decide who can have access to specific parcels.

Marriage payment or brideprice by prospective husband, polygamy and monogamy, levirate marriage,[34] and age at time of marriage were studied. The major changes in marriage practices among communities in Senegal appear to be the result of the education of girls: an increase in the age of women when they first marry, a preference by women to select their spouse rather than enter into arranged marriages, an increasing preference by women for monogamy (men continue to prefer polygamy although they recognize the increasing difficulties of maintaining more than one household) and a decline in the practice of levirate marriages as widows increasingly prefer to return to their birth family. It also appears that educated women who select their husband and actively participate in the marriage arrangements command a higher marriage payment.[35]

The study results reveal that while some marriage practices are changing, women's rights to land have not. Platteau et al. regard as particularly significant the fact that a woman's right to return to her birth family and be given temporary rights to use land to produce food for herself and her children is still intact. In view of changing marriage practices and increasingly commercialized and intensive agricultural development, the survival of this right is notable. While population pressure and land scarcity remain moderate (Platteau et al. 2000: 8-10), and education for women along with increasing individualism influence Senegalese marriage norms, families still seem willing to accommodate returning daughters.

Another interpretation of Platteau et al.'s findings could be that it is too soon to know how these changes in agricultural production, marriage practices, and customary tenure will play out in the longer term. While it appears that women have been able to retain temporary rights to use their birth family's land, there is evidence that men have been able to strengthen their individual ownership rights to lineage land. Women's land rights remain limited and continue to be mediated by men.

The Burkina Faso case study focused on Mossi communities as the dominant ethnic and cultural group. Mossi land tenure and family structure are patrilineal, as in Senegal, and determine marriage practices and who has control of land. Again, rights to land belong primarily to corporate groups such as communities and lineages; within these groups, men control the land deciding who can have access to specific parcels. Even though land in the legal sense has been owned by the state since 1984, this customary land tenure system is still practiced in most rural areas once land use and management rights are acquired by local communities through Land Committees. Legislation does not prevent women from accessing land, and in theory some groups that traditionally would not be favoured under customary systems, such as junior men and women, are able to acquire access rights to land.

Platteau et al.'s study (2000) in Burkina Faso reveals that while land scarcity is increasing, and customary marriage practices with regard to are gradually changing, women's access to land remains the same. In other words, increasing land scarcity has not yet converted land into a marketable asset, which would give women and men the opportunity to acquire direct and controlling rights to land through the market. But neither has it affected the cultural practice of granting unmarried women - including widows, divorced and separated women, and single mothers - access and temporary rights to use land belonging to their birth family lineage.

The most important finding from the Platteau et al. study (2000) is that some marriage practices are changing, such as polygamy falling into disfavour, apparently owing to influences external to the community and culture and independent of changes in the land tenure system since ownership is still vested in the community and lineages, land scarcity is not yet a problem, and land rights have not been individualized. For women this is positive in the sense that they can still count on the basic security of returning to their birth family, which is to their father's or brother's land, if their marriage arrangement falls apart. Pander (2000) has observed an apparently contradictory trend in Burkina Faso where irrigation development projects have concentrated more of the most productive land under men's control. It appears that women sometimes lose customary rights to use their husbands' land when it is affected by these projects, while still being expected to provide part of the family labour for irrigated plots now able to be planted with labour-intensive crops such as cotton.

Thus, while customary tenure systems do continue to provide women with some basic security in situations where they are not living with a husband, they still favour men when control over land is determined. This would appear to put men in an advantageous position to claim individual rights to land when land scarcity makes it an asset and when family land becomes private property. When this happens, women may continue to lose the rights they have to use their husband's land and be unable to claim temporary rights to use birth family land.

In contrast, South Africa has experienced strong state intervention in the agricultural sector and tenure system. Under colonial and apartheid rule, policies greatly benefited large, commercial, agricultural units controlled by white (and mostly male) landowners. The current government seeks to redress this gross socio-economic and political imbalance by allocating and distributing assets to the black population.

The post-apartheid South African state has explicitly stated its commitment to gender equity in most of its legislation and policy documents, including the 1996 Constitution and the guiding document for land reform, the 1997 White Paper on South African Land Policy. However, this commitment has not been consistently implemented.

Women's groups have mostly not been included as participants in land distribution programmes and discussions on the patriarchal nature of traditional authorities, tenure systems, and community practices. Women's organizations tend to have an urban focus and land reform officials tend to lack gender training. As a result, Walker's examination of three agrarian reform projects in KwaZulu Natal reveals that land is being allocated to households and that few women (mostly widows) are gaining direct rights to land. (Walker 2001) As in other countries, allocating land to households without explicitly recognizing women's rights usually results in men's control over the land and its being inherited by sons.

As Walker has pointed out, gender concerns are not being integrated into land reform projects and so local power relations and customary practices that tend to exclude women are not being challenged. While national policy pronouncements articulate the importance for gender equity in allocating land and other resources and services, offices at the local level do not have the mechanisms and tools to implement this gender policy and are often unaware that tenure security for women is a prime objective of the agrarian reform programme. Consequently they fail to monitor the results of these policies on women and possibly perpetuate the problems that the reforms they administer were designed to address. (Walker 2001: 35 - 36)

Unless women are specifically offered what they are now entitled to, few are willing to pay the social and cultural cost of demanding the new individual rights or joint titles to land allocated by agrarian reform. (Walker 2001: 49 - 50) Many women considered it unlikely that they would receive their own separate and individual titles to land; some pragmatically suggested women at least receive a copy of the land title granted to the household. (Walker 2001: 49)

In general, inheritance by women is a delicate issue in most of sub-Saharan Africa because it challenges the patrilineal transfer of land ownership and the place of men as heads of household. This can be interpreted as questioning the authority of men to decide on community and public issues. Men who resist female inheritance often mention that giving women direct rights to land would entitle them to participate in community affairs.

What is striking is the low level of women's control over landed property throughout sub-Saharan Africa. Most African countries recognize two legal systems, statutory legislation from its western colonial legal heritage, and the customary legal system, often unwritten and non-codified. With few exceptions,[36] neither legal system provides support for women's equal rights to land. Recognition of the customary tenure system in statutory law, for example, often explicitly states that land rights for women married under the customary marriage system and their daughters should follow local customary practice. The overwhelming majority of rural married women fall under this category, generally meaning that the male relative will have prime control over family land.

The dilemma faced by many countries with strong traditional customary systems is to reconcile the potential conflict between important local cultural values and new institutional norms and practices that attempt to open equal opportunity and access for all groups. This quandary is particularly evident when examining issues of land and gender because many customary systems are based on patrilineal inheritance systems and patriarchal values that deny women equal rights and opportunities. How does a democratic state address this inequality and still respect the socio-cultural values on which everyday behavioural and survival patterns depend?

Central Asia

Central Asia has been undergoing dramatic changes since the late 1980s. At differing levels, it is attempting to adjust to the market economy and make the transition into capitalist production by re-structuring state enterprises, redefining its commitment to social services, and reforming property laws. These changes are impacting in various ways on diverse population groups and social sectors. Some countries, such as Khazakstan, have made radical reforms by privatizing most property and dismantling economic and social structures, while others (for a variety of reasons) are approaching re-structuring and privatization more cautiously. Whichever approach or method is used, however, it would seem that women seldom benefit from the rights and resources that these countries in transition are offering its citizens.

Constitutions and other types of legislation tend to espouse equal rights for citizens, whether or not women are explicitly mentioned. Recent legislation also recognizes citizens' rights to private property. The commitment to gender equity, however, seems to be, at best, forgotten in the design and implementation of privatization programmes. Where agricultural production is converted from collective and state farms to family production, patriarchal norms regarding property ownership and management seem to take priority over concerns regarding gender equity.

Uzbekistan, in contrast to other central Asian and eastern European countries, has been extremely reluctant to privatize its agricultural land base. Most agricultural land remains under state ownership, organized into collective farm enterprises.[37] The main reasons appear to be a heavy dependence on cotton export production for state revenues and an extensive irrigation system based on centralized management.[38] (Kandiyoti 2003) Other factors include a rural population which is over 60 percent of total population and a small agricultural land base which is under 10 percent of all land, resulting in a densely populated rural sector with just 0.37 hectares per rural resident. (Kandiyoti 2001: 4) Nevertheless, steps have been taken to privatize agricultural production and the management of agricultural land.

The break from the Soviet Union in the early 1990s had serious consequences for agriculture in Uzbekistan, as it did for other former soviet states. Government revenues remained heavily dependent on the export of few crops (such as cotton). In addition, countries no longer received grants from the central Soviet government nor reciprocal shipments of crops to feed their populations. As a result, the state had to choose between producing its own food (diverting land used for cotton and other export crops production) or importing it (using scarce foreign revenues). The result in Uzbekistan has been that, by 1996, areas of cotton cultivation fell from 44 percent to 35 percent of arable land while areas of cereal cultivation increased from 24 percent to 41 percent of arable land. In addition, rural households' private land parcels (small land parcels allocated to each household for food crop production and livestock) were increased by re-allocating collective land to households belonging to the collective.[39]

Most agricultural land remains under state ownership. State enterprises have, however, undergone significant transformations. Agricultural production and management of land have shifted from being the responsibility of the state to rural households. In other words, while land remains state property, production has been privatized. Agricultural collectives have ceased to function as production enterprises, the land has been divided and leased out to families under several different types of arrangement, and unpaid family labour has to a large extent replaced wage labour and machinery. (Kandiyoti 2003)

Initially, in the early and mid-1990s, collectives leased out their land to member families; the collective continued to procure inputs and required families to produce a certain quota of cotton or wheat. These collectives have now become joint stock companies (JSCs), with the state retaining ownership of the land. Since collectives consisted of large numbers of families relative to the amount of land available, these leased parcels were relatively small. While prices for quota crops are low, resulting in low profits for families, families are able to access more land, either as parcels available for temporary use or under leasing arrangements, and other benefits from the collective.[40]

This additional land is held under different tenure rights from the small household parcels that families were initially assigned and may use as they please, to grow food crops and even cash crops, raise animals, or build a house. Those household parcels can be inherited and the custom is for the youngest son to stay at home with the parents and take over the parcel. When a couple marry, they have the right to request and receive a household parcel from the collective. Recently, because of land scarcity, collectives in some areas have not allocated household parcels to newly formed families; often this means that the new household shares the husband's family home and land.

A more recent development in the leasing out of land by state enterprises is to turn over complete management of medium-sized parcels within the collective, under long-term leaseholds (10 - 50 years) to what are called independent farmers. Applicants for these leasehold contracts undergo a screening process so that experienced and trained farmers are selected.[41]

Although privatization of agricultural production has not made individuals or families owners of the land they work, they are gaining more control over the land and managing it within the constraints of procurement policies, input delivery and social relations. What is clear from Kandiyoti's study is that, in keeping with Uzbek cultural norms, men are in control of land and women provide most of the family labour that goes into farm production. Leasehold contracts and the household parcel are in the name of the male head of household. Uzbek families are patrilineal and patriarchal; newly-married couples often live with the husband's family. When land is privatized further, for example, if private property rights are granted to household parcels, men will receive title to that land. Since inheritance is patrilineal, this male control is not likely to change.

What can seem surprising, taking into account the relatively high level of education of Uzbek women and their experience of salaried work and wage income, is the reluctance they have shown in assuming managerial roles or independent work lives. An indication of the subordinate position of women within families is the high number of children they bear, and the restrictions placed on their movement. It is not seen as appropriate for younger women to go to local market; men or older women in the family do so. Taking into account their heavy work loads at home, and also in the household parcel, perhaps women's unwillingness to take on more responsibilities is understandable.

The resurgence of Uzbek cultural norms and its patriarchal practices which have led to women returning to the home and to unpaid family labour are indications of the endurance of these values under socialist states. They are, however, also a result of how state policies currently and in the past have focused on granting certain benefits to women and not on attaining gender equity. While the socialist state promoted policies that benefited women, the objectives of these policies was to protect women as mothers and as workers, but these policies did not address the question of women's equal rights. Under current state policy, the focus is still on women as family workers[42] and much of the rhetoric refers to women as representing traditional values.

In part, promotion of these values at this time is a political tactic and plays to Uzbek nationalism. At the same time it reveals the difficulty that any state policy or programme will face in addressing gender equity. Women are not only losing status and independent roles, they are also losing access to important benefits such as education and health as the state retreats from providing these services and women retreat into their homes and become increasingly dependent on their husbands' families for their welfare.


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[25] The theory maintains, for example, that control over resources ensures timely decision-making and facilitates other factors such as access to capital.
[26] Different types of ownership rights and systems (such as freehold, commons, family and customary) often coexist or overlap in an area. At one extreme, freehold ownership gives individuals almost exclusive control and rights over property. At the other, common ownership gives no one individual exclusive rights and instead recognises ownership by a group; each person of that group has rights to use communal property within the rules and regulations established by the group. In many rural societies, the tenure system is a combination of individual and group (community, lineage, family, etc.) ownership rights.
[27] Broken down, the proportion of these women receiving individual titles is 40 percent and joint titles is 21 percent. This is not to say that gender bias has been eradicated. A 1999 study by the Oficina de Titulacion Rural (OTR) showed that while men receiving individual title to land held parcels of between 10 and 40 manzanas in size, women receiving individual title to land were issued with parcels of between 0.5 and 3 manzanas (Ceci, 2000: 29).
[28] Even with private property, the state reserves some rights such as eminent domain and zoning [the practice of ensuring that residential and industrial areas, for example, are kept separate].
[29] Rural women have participated in numerous movements, including in the Movimento Sem Terra and in CONTAG demanding land for the rural poor, and in the boias frias demanding better working conditions for farm workers.
[30] Land use and management rights are acquired by local communities through Land Committees.
[31] A similar conflict between norm and practice was observed in Senegal (Platteau et al., 2000: 17).
[32] In recent years, it has been recognized that such large-scale and rapid agrarian reform projects have been neither economically nor ecologically feasible in many cases.
[33] Social theory would predict that societies based on capitalist production (where socio-economic systems are based on the market) or on socialist production (where collective production/ distribution and decision-making is based on equality) involve the equal participation of all individuals and societal groups, regardless of gender, race or ethnicity.
[34] Levirate marriage is where a widow is married to one of her husband's brothers in order to keep the husband's assets, particularly land, within his family's control and to assure that any subsequent children she bears belong to the husband's lineage.
[35] Although prospective brides state a preference for keeping marriage payment low.
[36] For example, recent agrarian laws in both South Africa and Uganda specifically mention women's equal rights to land.
[37] Most arable land was put under state ownership during the 1930s and 1940s and structured into state farms or collectives. The first structural change after 1990 was to convert state farms into collectives.
[38] The development of cotton production in Uzbekistan supported by an extensive irrigation system was stimulated by the requirements of Russian textile mills. Collectivisation and Russia's demand for cotton during the 1930s converted the Uzbek countryside to mono-cultural agricultural production. Irrigation and chemical inputs greatly increased between the 1960s and 1980s in an effort to increase cotton production significantly.
[39] According to a 1999 World Bank report cited by Kandiyoti (2002), these private plots constitute 10 percent of arable land.
[40] The advantages for household producers of maintaining the umbrella of the collective structure include access to inputs for their household parcels, as a collective member one may request more land to lease, and production over quotas receive valuable in-kind payments. The collective provides a type of safety net for rural families.
[41] In practice, it appears that a large proportion of independent farmers are the former managers and technicians of the collective.
[42] Kandiyoti mentions a state-sponsored national competition for the "Best Daughter-in-Law".

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