UNRISD Research and Policy Brief 4: Land Tenure Reform and Gender Equality


It is now widely recognized that the agrarian reforms implemented from the 1950s through the 1970s were gender blind. These reforms were often based on the assumption that assets allocated to the head of household - typically male - would benefit all household members equitably. Not only did these reforms ignore the well-being of women and their dependents in the event of household dissolution (upon separation, divorce or widowhood), they were also blind to the ways in which gender-based inequalities in access to land exacerbated married women's (unpaid) workloads, economic insecurity, and bargaining power within households.

These reforms took place at a time when gender equality was marginal to the policy agenda and when women's organizations lacked their current visibility. In the 1990s the reform of land tenure institutions once again emerged as a prominent issue for international development agencies. But was this new wave of reforms any more gender sensitive than those of the past?

A main focus of the more recent reforms was land titling, designed to promote security of tenure and stimulate land markets. The reforms were often driven by domestic and external neoliberal coalitions, with funding from global and regional organizations subscribing to the position that private property rights are essential for a dynamic agricultural sector. Yet it would be too simplistic to view the diverse national experiences of land tenure reform as top-down neoliberal undertakings. Democratic transitions, though often fragile, have opened up new possibilities for agrarian reform, placing inequalities in land distribution back on national agendas. The involvement of social movements, including women's movements, and their domestic and international allies has been the other hallmark of recent policy debates on land. The extent to which women's interests are reflected in the new generation of reforms is the key question examined in this Research and Policy Brief.

Briefing available in english, french and spanish.


United Nations Research Institute for Social Development, Geneva, Switzerland, ISSN 1811-0142, 4 pp.

Published 1 January 2005