Men and women in agriculture: closing the gap


Land is the most important household asset for households that depend on agriculture for their livelihoods. Access to land is a basic requirement for farming and control over land is synonymous with wealth, status and power in many areas.

The evidence illustrating gender inequalities in access to land is overwhelming. Women across all developing regions are consistently less likely to own or operate land; they are less likely to have access to rented land, and the land they do have access to is often of poorer quality and in smaller plots.

Strengthening women’s access to, and control over, land is an important means of raising their status and influence within households and communities. Improving women’s access to land and security of tenure has direct impacts on farm productivity, and can also have far-reaching implications for improving household welfare.

Policy recommendations

Eliminate discrimination under the law

Where statutory legal rights to land remain gender-biased, a key strategy is to review and reform all national legislation that relates to land and natural resources. Although land laws are the starting point, related legislation should also be considered.  Family and marriage laws, inheritance provisions and housing law are all important legal areas that play a supporting role in ensuring equitable treatment of men and women in control over land.

Recognize the importance and power of customary land rights

In many countries, tradition is stronger than law when it comes to land issues. Opposition from land reform authorities, peasant unions, village authorities and male household heads can frustrate land reform efforts to extend legal land rights to both single and married women. Legal rights are difficult to enforce if they are not seen as legitimate; thus recognizing customary land rights and working with community leaders is essential to ensure that women’s rights are protected. 

Educate officials and evaluate them on gender targets

Local land officials may be unaware of gender equity laws and objectives or lack the mechanisms, tools and will to implement them. Legislation needs to be supported by regulations and gender-specific rules and guidelines that educate officials in agriculture ministries, land institutions and other agencies regarding the implementation of the gender position of the law. Relevant training is also required for staff in the various institutions that carry out and enforce land rights, including land registries, cadastral offices, titling agencies, land magistrates and courts. Gender-balanced employment in these institutions can also help.

Monitor and evaluate officials on gender targets

Where appropriate, the performance of local land officials in agriculture ministries, land institutions and other agencies should be evaluated against gender-related targets. The involvement of women’s organizations in the process can facilitate the achievement of gender equity targets. Furthermore, gender targets for access and tenure security should be monitored and officials held accountable for meeting them.

Adjust bureaucratic procedures

Simple steps such as making space for two names on land registration forms can be a powerful tool for encouraging joint titling and protecting the rights of women within marriage. Rural women often lack the documents (such as birth records) required to obtain land titles, so facilitating access to such documents may be necessary. Placing photographs of owners on land certificates can reduce the likelihood of cheating and manipulation.

Gather sex-disaggregated data for policy design and monitoring

Gathering and analyzing sex-disaggregated data can reveal useful insights into gender inequality and land ownership, and help inform and improve the design, implementation and effectiveness of land-titling programmes.

Educate women regarding land rights

Raising women’s legal literacy, increasing the dissemination and accessibility of information and establishing supporting legal services are essential in promoting gender equity in land programmes. Legal literacy means that women are aware of their legal rights and know how they can be enforced and protected. Officials responsible for implementing land programmes must actively educate both men and women regarding gender equity provisions and the possibility of joint titling, rather than treating the decision as a private matter between spouses.1 Precisely because they are so important, land tenure issues are often contentious, and women seeking to assert their rights may be subject to pressure from their families and communities. The provision of legal protections and affordable legal services are vital in this respect. Mobile legal clinics with staff trained in land issues may be a useful solution during land formalization programmes.

Ensure that women’s voices are heard

Meaningful representation is an important step towards helping women gain access to established rights. Women’s organizations can be effective in promoting local participation, building a consensus and raising consciousness at all levels, especially as women are generally not well represented in decision-making bodies, and they are often instrumental in pressuring for government programmes to include women as equal participants. Women must be an integral part of the implementation of land programmes. Training community members as paralegals, topographers and conflict mediators can help build community skills and increase the probability that women’s concerns will be addressed. 

Key facts

In developing countries for which data are available, between 10 percent and 20 percent of all land holders are women.

Among smallholders, farms operated by female-headed households are smaller in almost all countries for which data are available. The gap is negligible in some countries, but in others farms operated by female-headed households are only half to two-thirds the size of farms operated by male-headed households.

Women across all developing regions are consistently less likely to own or operate land; they are less likely to have access to rented land, and the land they do have access to is often of poorer quality and in smaller plots.


  1. Ikdahl, I. 2008. “Go home and clear the conflict”: human rights perspectives on gender and land in Tanzania. In B. Englert & E. Daley, eds. Women’s land rights and privatization in Eastern Africa, pp. 40–60. Woodbridge, UK, James Currey; Brown, J. 2003. Rural women’s land rights in Java, Indonesia: strengthened by family law, but weakened by land registration. Pacific Rim Law and Policy Journal, 12(3): 631–651.
SOFA 2010-2011


FAO Gender Programme
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

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