Women's Land Tenure Framework for Analysis: Land Rights

Renee Giovarelli and Elisa Scalise · Sep 22, 2016

V. Glossary

Page Contents

This page will highlight a few areas for analysis.

To jump to one of the sections on this page use the below links:


BRIDEPRICE: Money, property, or services paid by a groom or his family to the family of the bride.


COMMON OWNERSHIP: A form of shared tenure (defined below). More than one person or organization owns land or other property—each person owns a portion of the whole, divided equally unless otherwise stated.


COMMUNAL TENURE:  A form of shared tenure (defined below). A group holds secure and exclusive collective rights to own, manage and/or use land and natural resources.


COMPULSORY ACQUISITION: The power a government holds to acquire private rights in land without the willing consent of its owner or occupant in order to benefit society.


CONSENSUAL UNION:  Two people who choose to live together as if they were married, but their relationship is not recognized legally.


CUSTOMARY RIGHTS: Rights acquired by custom and recognized by all inhabitants of a particular place.


DOWRY: Money, goods, land or other possessions that a woman brings into a marriage with her; very often paid by her family and sometimes paid to the groom’s family.


JOINT OWNERSHIP: A form of shared tenure (defined below). More than one person or legal entity owns land or other property – each person owns the whole of the property, undivided.


LAND TENURE SECURITY: Land tenure is defined as the legal or customary institutional relationships among people with respect to land. These relationships define how rights to own, use, access, control, and transfer land are governed.  Though the term is often assumed to be synonymous with ownership, land tenure is more properly understood as a bundle of different property rights in land which can include the right to own, use, sell, gift, bequeath, mortgage, and transfer land. Land tenure – the bundle of rights to land – is often described as being secure or insecure, though in practice, land tenure security is more accurately understood as existing along a continuum, where factors influencing security include the breadth, scope, and duration of rights; the social, legal, and cultural legitimacy of rights; and the adequacy and enforceability of rights.  Understanding land tenure security in this more robust way is important because it creates conceptual space for the complexity of land tenure systems that exist around the world, especially in places where individual private ownership is neither the norm, nor the preference.  Relationships that underlie land governance are tethered to social relationships and reflect power structures, economics, social norms, symbolic or cultural meaning, and sometimes systemic inequities. This means that, within the same society, the factors making land tenure insecure for some groups may not be the same for others and the factors that make land tenure insecure for men may be different for women. 


For land tenure to be secure for women, their rights to land:


  1. Must be legally and socially legitimate;
  2. Must withstand changes in the family and in the community;
  3. Should be long term or at least for a known duration; and  
  4. Should be exercisable by women in the same way that they are for men.

MARITAL PROPERTY: All property or other assets belonging to both spouses.


MATRILINEAL: Tracing descent through the maternal line.


MATRILOCAL: Located at or centered around the residence of the wife's family or people.


PATRILINEAL:  Tracing descent through the paternal line.


PATRILOCAL: Located at or centered around the residence of the husband's family or people.


PERSONAL LAW:  A body or collection of laws dealing with an individual and his or her family.


PRESUMED COMMON OR JOINT OWNERSHIP: Common or joint ownership (defined above) is, by law, the default property regime for marital couples unless otherwise stated in law. That is, all property acquired after marriage is presumed to be the common or joint ownership of the married couple unless it fits into a legal exception.


SHARED TENURE: The broad category of rights to land and housing shared by two or more people. Shared tenure can be formal or informal. Formal shared tenure conventionally refers to co-ownership or co-lease rights. Shared tenure also includes land and/or housing which is owned, leased or occupied in shares by larger groups, such as through family tenure, community titling, women’s groups and co-operatives, or by couples who each hold a portion of property together, but which do not necessarily constitute equal shares to this property.


UNIVERSAL COMMON OR JOINT OWNERSHIP: All property brought into a marriage or acquired during a marriage is considered held in common or joint ownership (defined above), no matter when or how it was acquired.