Women's land rights

What happens when women reclaim the land that belongs to them

Access to land is a vital right. Without it, how can women grow the crops they need to feed themselves, nourish their family or earn an income? Sometimes, just knowing your rights can be the difference between losing and regaining the land you need.

In this module we look at how REFLECT circle sessions can give women the knowledge and confidence they need to demand land that’s rightfully theirs.

Learning aims

Completing this module will give you an understanding of:

  • The importance of land rights, and that a lack of access to land is a form of violence against women
  • How women like Nauguh are reclaiming land that belong to them.
In Ghana, a group of people of all genders hold up placards with messages demanding access to land

POWER participants campaign for access to land, Ghana. Photo: Deborah Lomotey/ActionAid

Why land rights matter

In many places around the world women are systematically prevented from accessing land, even when it is their legal property or it is their right. This lack of access to land is a form of violence against women.

In some places laws are equal for men and women, but local custom undermines these laws or women do not know their legal rights. In other places, discriminatory inheritance laws prevent women from receiving land that is rightfully theirs. In others, the death of a husband can uproot a woman’s life. A widow may be expected to remarry another man from her husband’s family, or lose everything.

Nauguh’s story

Here’s how Nauguh learned her rights and reclaimed land that was taken from her as a widow. 

“Many people in Tongo are surprised at how I have been lifted from the far back to the front” says Nauguh Boarezii from Ghana.

“It’s all about knowing your entitlements, and demanding what is due you. I now get what I need without depending on anybody. I am proud of myself and can confidently say I am now living a dignified life.

“I’m a 65-year-old widow. I live with my children, daughter-in-law and two grandchildren. I have three daughters and two of them are married. Unfortunately, both of my two sons have passed away, leaving behind their wives and children. I am now the head of the household. I knew I would not be facing these challenges if I still had access to land to farm. I joined a REFLECT circle and it was an eye-opening experience for me.

“I was never aware that by law, my husband’s property was mine and his family didn’t have a right to take the land and everything we had worked together for from me.”

“I held a meeting with my late husband’s brothers concerning the land they had taken away from me and I let them know I knew my rights. I threatened to report them to the appropriate authorities if they refused to return the farmlands to me.

“As happens to other widows, when my husband passed away, his brothers seized all our farmlands. I had no land to farm on so I resorted to selling firewood. It wasn’t easy to get wood to sell. The distance was very far, and I had to cross a river to find any to chop and sell. I would stop and rest at least five times before I got home with the firewood and I spent not less than nine hours each day collecting firewood. When I set off at about five o’clock at dawn, I arrived home with the firewood around two o’clock in the afternoon, then proceed to the market to sell the firewood. This made me very tired and I was always falling sick, I could not sleep nor eat well. Usually, one headload of firewood is sold at Ghc3.00 (less than $1). This profit from one head of firewood is just enough to buy me two bowls of maize to prepare Tuo Zaafi [a local staple food]. It was not enough. I could not afford basic necessities such as good food and health care.”

When Nauguh learned her rights and asserted herself to her husband’s family, things changed.

“They knew I was serious and being afraid of facing the law, they returned the land to me. The maltreatment and verbal abuse I suffered at their hands also stopped.

“I use the land to cultivate millet, groundnuts and bambara beans and I have stopped selling firewood. I’m now producing enough food to feed my grandchildren and the rest of my family. I see myself as being lifted from the back to the front, I have regained my freedom and respect.”

Education alone won’t end violence against women

As mentioned above, lack of access to land is a form of violence against women.

To end this and other forms of violence against women, it’s not enough for women to simply learn their rights. They need access to essential resources like food, vital services like healthcare, and support and empowerment to demand what they are owed.

Dig deeper

In this video activist and paralegal Florence Mramba explains how women and girls are most affected by the extractive companies operating in Kenya’s Salt Belt, and how she’s working to educate them about their rights.

Learning action

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Women’s land rights

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