Two Faces of Change: The Need for a Bi-Directional Approach to Improve Women’s Land Rights in Plural Legal Systems
Executive Summary: The complex relationship between law, land rights and customary practices is increasingly recognized as foundational to formulating successful development policies. Similarly, the essential role of women’s economic participation in development and the current trend of gender discriminatory land and inheritance customary practices have prompted domestic civil society organizations in developing countries to use statutory provisions guaranteeing gender equality to improve women’s land tenure security. This chapter examines the particular need for secure land rights for women in the African pluralistic development context, and the mixed results of targeting law reform as a mechanism for change. Relying on primary research conducted in Mozambique and the United Republic of Tanzania on land practices as experienced by divorced and widowed women, it evaluates strategies employed by domestic non-governmental organizations to enhance women’s access to justice and land tenure security. In particular, the chapter analyses whether initiatives to disseminate and use statutory law (rather than customary law) are overcoming the lack of knowledge, application and enforcement that have previously limited the effectiveness of rights-affirming legislation. Specific and general conclusions are drawn from the data to generate recommendations for donors, governments and development institutions.