Gender and Land Rights Database


Customary norms, religious beliefs and social practices that influence gender-differentiated land rights

Women usually access land in the same way as men, ie. through inheritance and gifts from their families. But the primary channel by which women acquire land is through marriage. Marriage in Liberia is largely patrilocal and women will normally travel to their husband’s community and gain access to his land.

When a marriage breaks down, a woman loses her right to farm land in her husband’s community, but she has the right to return to her community where she can access land for subsistence farming. Women therefore rely on their family for support and to gain access to a parcel. Typically, women will petition their brothers or parents to be allocated a parcel. Their children however, cannot inherit those rights and can only inherit land in their father’s community.


Traditional authorities and customary institutions

Governance over land and other natural resources derives from both statutory and customary authorities. These customary authorities are recognised by statutory law. They include:Town Chiefs, General Town Chiefs, Clan Chiefs, Paramount Chiefs, District Commissioners and District Superintendents. (11)

Women are increasingly serving in positions of authority as elders, chairladies, Town Chiefs, Clan Chiefs, and Township Commissioners. USAID reports that some community members attribute women’s increasing access to these positions to the introduction of principles of gender equity from external sources. However, women’s decision-making power over land and natural resources appears is still very limited. Land in particular is still largely perceived to be men’s responsibility. Despite these barriers women’s position has also been strengthened in the marketing of food crops, and the management of the income generated from the sale of crops. (11)


Inheritance/succession de facto practices

Widows retain access to land in their husband’s community. On private plots, daughters are more likely to inherit land jointly with their brothers or to receive a share of the land divided among the children. However, they tend to receive a smaller share than their brothers and they will usually not exercise control over the land that they receive. This is because married women usually leave their parents’ community when they get married. Brothers will therefore administer and control land on behalf of their sisters. (11)


Discrepancies/gaps between statutory and customary laws

Discrepancies still remain between statutory and customary legal regimes. Customary Law applies mainly to issues of marriage and inheritance and while statutory laws prohibit discriminatory practices, they make no specific provisions for protection against discrimination in the private or domestic spheres. (5)

In effect, statutory and customary laws that govern the rights of couples married under civil law and customary law apply only to privately held land and does not extend to customary land. This significantly restricts the scope of the Equal Rights in Customary Marriage Act, which was initially intended to strengthen the rights of women in customary systems. In reality, this act applies only for women married under customary law on privately held land, thereby leaving the vast majority of women who live on customary land unprotected. (7)


Sources: numbers in brackets (*) refer to sources displayed in the Bibliography