Policy Brief: Voices of women’s aspirations over land and land matters

In a two-year (2009-10) action research study URDT in collaboration with Makerere Institute of Social Research (MISR) found that – amongst other things, poor institutional governance is a major obstacle to the realization of women’s aspirations for land.

Land as a natural asset is linked basis for livelihoods in Uganda. Gender stereotypes have meant that women’s role as farmers has not been recognised, and women themselves have internalised such stereotypes as well, settling for what they believe is good enough. Frequently, they will accept access to land rather than ownership with security and full rights.
Cultural practices and other pressures that deny women equal opportunities to education and inheritance rights reinforce this belief. Women assume that marriage grants them automatic ownership over marital property, and that there is, therefore, no need for girls to have land at their maternal home.

URDT’s research in the Kibaale area identified a variety of challenges faced by women, including low literacy levels and a lack of information about their legal rights, but also land administration institutions that are distant from communities and lack gender-sensitivity. Plural legal regimes in which customary law is prevalent at the local level create complex systems, in which women have limited and insecure access to land.

Women cannot easily access state institutions due to distance and prevailing attitudes that restrict women’s movement, and they do not have the resources to get legal support if their rights are denied. Women acquire secondary rights to land through marriage and inheritance is through the male lineage. In the district, polygamy predominates, contributing to the spread of HIV and making women vulnerable when their husbands die.

Both state and customary laws are used to govern land access and marriage – making it very difficult for women to claim their land rights. An added complication is that people in the area do not plan for succession and even when wills
exist, they are often disregarded. URDT’s study also revealed that customary laws were used unsystematically in dispute resolution and that local-level leaders were not familiar with state law.