Policy Brief: Women s land rights gains in Rwanda are eroded by cultural practices and negative attitude

Experiences of Women in Asserting their Land Rights: the case of Bugesera District, Rwanda

A two-year (2009–2010) action research study entitled “Experiences of Women in Asserting their Land Rights: the case of Bugesera District, Rwanda”, was carried out by Rwanda Women Network (RWN) in collaboration with the Makerere Institute of Social Research (MISR). The study shows that gains for women’s struggle on land rights in statutory law are undermined on the ground by the continuation of discriminatory practices, which are prejudicial to women and due to the negative attitudes towards women’s land rights in Rwanda.

Land scarcity in Rwanda is a huge problem due to population density and the fact that the country’s population is more than 80 percent dependent on agriculture. Due to the country’s history of conflict and the 1994 genocide, the
complex land problem has deteriorated. Today, women constitute approximately 53 percent of the adult population and 50 percent of these are widows. Women continue to face the impact of genocide; for example, today 34 percent of all households in Rwanda are headed by women. In addition, of the Rwandan population infected with HIV, over 50 percent are women due partly to the mass rape during the genocide.

The struggle for women’s land rights has been helped by the progressive statutory regime that recognizes and protects women’s rights to own and inherit land. Relevant legislations include the Constitution (2003), Inheritance and Succession Law (1999), Land Law (2005), which together complement the 1960 Civil Code. In particular, Articles 4 and 9 of the Rwanda Constitution (2003) provide for equality of all Rwandans, men and women and between husbands and wives respectively.

Even though these policy and law reforms have greatly enhanced women’s land and property rights, in practice there is still a need for change.