Benjamin Cousins, a researcher for IFPRI, says that today there are many situations, such as cohabitation without marriage, to which traditional norms do not apply. Consequently, “Many women have lost access to land.” In addition, the men are largely considered the “household heads” and are the only ones who are named on title documents.
Occasionally, in the event of separation, divorce, or widowhood a woman’s right to the land is upheld. In these cases, however, “Widows lucky enough to get land were allocated the smallest lots” (Kimani). This is one of many examples of how women are systematically disadvantaged. When cultures view women as unequal to men, they often receive unequal opportunities in government and are thus hindered from improving their own condition (“Women’s Land”). Without equal opportunity, “Women are economically disempowered” and “do not enjoy the same economic, social and cultural rights as men” (Kameri-Mbote). Disempowerment of women is only worsened by women’s limited access to education. Young girls’ lack of education keeps women “largely unaware of the law, or, if aware, unable to seek their active implementation” (Kameri-Mbote). Due to highly patriarchal communities and traditions, boys are typically the ones who inherit land (Kimani).
Women are expected to have access to land through her father before marriage and through her husband after marriage. However, after marriage land is often inherited by a son or other male relative, not the wife. Today, these traditions prove to be a serious obstacle to improving women’s access to land. Even though women would not have more rights than men, Strengthening land rights for women can “disrupt existing power balances” (Markham). For example, some men may view stronger women’s land rights as a threat to their authority or masculinity. Such a threat may cause some to react violently to their perceived loss of control (Markham).As a result of traditions and cultural norms, women often lack sufficient rights to their land, despite women in Africa contributing to “70 percent of food production,” and “nearly half of all farm labor” (Kimani). Land rights are most often “held by men or kinship groups controlled by men, and women have access mainly through a male relative” (Kimani).
A map of percent agricultural land owned by women paints a clear picture of the problem: