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This annotated bibliography consists of documents identified as part of a literature review on existing research on the external and intra-communal threats to women’s land tenure security and the effectiveness of interventions that respond to these threats. With the understanding that broad research gaps remain, the review focuses only on threats and interventions related to women’s insecure land and resource tenure but does not focus on the scope of the problem or on the benefits of securing women’s rights to land.

The assessment seeks to answer the following questions:

The impact of external and intra-communal threats on women’s land tenure security:

What rigorous research has been done on the range of external and intra-communal threats to women’s land tenure security, including acquiring land? The research will focus on four requirements for tenure security – cultural/legal legitimacy, resilience/durability, exercisability, and enforceability.

What does the research tell us about which areas require the most attention to secure women’s tenure?

The effectiveness of interventions that respond to these threats:

What interventions have been rigorously assessed?

What conclusions have these studies reached about effectiveness?

To what extent have these findings informed practices in the field?

What are the opportunities for further research and new avenues for dissemination?


The methodology for the annotated bibliography is based on a set of exclusion and inclusion criteria that helped to narrow down the material and also ensure only the most relevant documents were included.

Criteria for Inclusion:

Studies were included only if published on or after 2000. 

Studies either identified a threat or threats to women’s land rights or rigorously evaluated an intervention that responded to one or more of these threats. Threats included not meeting one or more of the four criteria below for secure land tenure. The criteria are:

Cultural and legal legitimacy: Land rights are recognized by law, custom, family, clan, and community.

Resilience and durability: Women’s land rights are not vulnerable to changes in her social status or her family structure such as the death of her father or husband, or to changes in her clan or community, including “land grabs.”

Exercisability: Women are informed of their land rights, understand the meaning and value of these rights, and understand how to obtain or document them. Land rights can be exercised without additional layers of approval.

Enforceability: Women can access their rights, have the ability and means to present a claim, be guaranteed that cases will be heard, and that the resulting decision will be implemented.

There are many cases of overlap where the study included more than one threat. Studies are not repeated in different sections and studies that overlap are in their primary category.

Identified issues are:

Lack of cultural and legal legitimacy: Legal rules and implementation regulations and procedures that treat women and men differently in terms of rights to land; land rights documentation efforts that do not ensure that women’s rights are legally documented; customary norms that do not allow categories of women to have or control certain land rights (i.e. married women).

Lack of resilience and durability: Legal or customary norms that do not allow certain categories of women to keep their rights to land—widows, married out daughters, divorced women, women who marry into a community, women in polygamous relationships, or women who remarry out of the community. Legal or customary norms that do not protect women when communities change due to changes in leadership, conflict, natural disasters, or compulsory takings.

Lack of the ability to exercise legal or customarily held rights: Legal or customary norms that treat women differently than men in terms of: receiving the same information as men because of norms related to public space or meetings; receiving information because material is inaccessible due to language or literacy; having enough information to take steps to gain or keep rights to land; having access to the means to exercise their rights—lack of transportation, lack of ability to access specific spaces, etc. Excluding women from bodies that govern land rights, or decision-making bodies; excluding women from governing or decision-making venues.

Lack of the ability to enforce rights: Legal or customary norms that exclude women from enforcing their rights when faced with a dispute or challenge to their rights. De facto or de jure exclusion of women from accessing dispute resolution forums (financial, physical, social access), lack of faith in the likelihood of a favorable outcome for women, lack of faith in the fairness of decisions with regard to women’s land rights, lack of information on how to pursue enforcement options, social stigma or other social costs that prevent women from making use of dispute resolution forums, and lack of implementation of decisions that are favorable to women.

Excluded Studies:

This study excluded qualitative or quantitative studies that focus on evidence of impact of improving land tenure security for women, including outcomes related to food security, poverty alleviation, agricultural production and investments in technology, health and education. Also excluded were unpublished studies or those that did not include any original research.

To find the studies, we searched a number of databases, including: Google Scholar, JStor, University of Washington Faculty e-Journals, FAOLex, LandWise, and the Land Tenure and Property Rights Portal. All combinations of the terms listed below in the articles title, abstract, and keywords were searched for:

Land rights

Land tenure













The report is organized around 3 key headings: Legal and Cultural Legitimacy, Resilience to Change and Durability, and Exercisability and Enforceability.

Within sections, the studies are organized by date, most recent first, and within the same year, alphabetically.