Izehi Oriaghan is a current Hilton Prize Coalition Fellow with Landesa, a nonprofit organization that partners with governments and local organizations to secure legal land rights for the world’s poorest families. In her blog, Izehi reflects upon land rights in Nigeria.
A Quick Look at Women’s Land and Inheritance Rights in Nigeria
by Izehi Oriaghan
In my academic and professional experience, I have been confronted with women’s issues, including child or early marriage, the limited participation of women in business and political leadership, and gender-based violence. But until this summer, I had never really contemplated the status of the Nigerian woman in regards to her right to own or inherit land.
Working with Landesa this summer as a Hilton Prize Coalition Fellow has been a great learning opportunity for me. I have been able to explore an aspect of international development and women’s empowerment that, before now, I had not given much thought. And I am grateful for this experience. In my role, I conducted background research to support Landesa’s emerging global women’s land rights (WLR) campaign, which seeks to bridge the implementation gap between law and practice in fostering WLR globally. This work has led me to take a closer look at the WLR landscape in Nigeria.
Land acquisition for men and women in Nigeria, for the most part, is through inheritance. And inheritance right to a great extent is influenced by the customs in different parts of the country. Most often, men have a greater chance of inheriting land over women, and sadly this patrilineal system of land inheritance still continues to date despite the provisions of the law. Hence, there is a huge gender gap in land ownership in Nigeria, and less than 2% of women, compared to 17% men, own land by themselves ( Brunelli, De La O Campos, Doss, & Slavchevska, 2016a).
The 1978 Land Use Act of Nigeria established a state-owned land system that allowed similar opportunities for men and women to acquire or inherit land (Brunelli et al., 2016a). However, only legally married women could benefit from this act, so it did not necessarily improve the ownership or inheritance rights for women in Nigeria. Transfer of land ownership is still largely guided by customary practices that discriminate against women, especially because the average citizen has poor knowledge of the statutory laws with respect to land( Brunelli, De La O Campos, Doss, & Slavchevska, 2016b).
Based on my own personal inquiries on the subject and published research, I have found that few land owners in Nigeria have the formal documents to prove land ownership. This is why statutory laws, in comparison to customary practices, are not always as effective in ensuring secure and equitable land tenure for women and men because the legal ownership of many such lands cannot be proven. The customary system in Nigeria is quite flexible and approves the right to transfer land without seeking government approval. Consequently, up to 40% of land in Nigeria may be prone to legal disputes over rightful ownership, which means a large portion of land in Nigeria is under insecure tenure (Brunelli et al., 2016b).
In comparing women’s inheritance rights outcomes in customary and statutory settings, I decided to sample the opinions of women from different parts of the country. I wanted to know the typical Nigerian woman’s experience in spite of the law.
Shade Pedro is from the western part of Nigeria. According to her, it is not culturally common for girls or women to inherit land from their parents, except in rare cases when there is no male offspring. Even these rare cases largely depend on the level of exposure or belief of the family elders. It is possible that a woman can inherit her husband’s land if she is legally married to him, but she runs a risk of losing such rights if she bares no children. Shade is from one of such enlightened families, and she is able to inherit her father’s land as the first daughter of the family. This is not always the case.
Unlike Shade, Stella Isimen is unable to inherit her father’s property even being the first child of the family, and this is the plight of many girls and women in the southern part of Nigeria. As a legally married woman already past retirement age, she has no land or title to her name, and her children will inherit her husband’s property, not her.
Uche Precious is from the eastern part of Nigeria and shares a similar experience with Stella. A girl child cannot inherit her father’s land if she has male siblings. If widowed and without a male child, her husband’s land or property goes to his male siblings. If she bares male children, the inheritance rights fall to them. In essence, a girl or woman from the east does not have any particular inheritance rights.
The scenario is equally worse to the north of the country where women, for customary and religious reasons, often relinquish their inheritance rights due to social pressures.
I must mention that one thing is common for all these experiences, and it is the fact that these women all alluded to some improvement in customary practices due to increasing literacy and awareness of gender equality. Thus, I might conclude that an intervention especially for knowledge and capacity development for local citizens, provision of formal land titles, a review of inheritance and land laws, and improved implementation systems will go a long way to improve the land rights of women in Nigeria.
About The Hilton Prize Coalition
The Hilton Prize Coalition is an independent alliance of the 22 winners of the Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize, working together to achieve collective impact. Through three signature programs—the Fellows Program, the Collaborative Models Program and the Storytelling Program—the Coalition leverages the resources, talents and expertise of each of its members to innovate and establish best practices that can be shared with the global NGO and donor communities. Working in more than 170 countries, the Coalition is governed by a board comprised of the leaders of the Prize-winning organizations led by an Executive Committee and a Secretariat, Global Impact.
To learn more about the Hilton Prize Coalition, visit prizecoalition.charity.org, or contact email@example.com. Follow the Hilton Prize Coalition on Twitter and LinkedIn, and “Like” us on Facebook.
Brunelli, C., De la O Campos, A., Doss, C., & Slavchevska, V.(2016a, December). Beyond Ownership: Tracking Progress on Women’s Land Rights in Sub-Saharan Africa (Working paper No. 15). Retrieved http://gsars.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/WP-14.12.2016-Beyond-Ownership.pdf
Brunelli, C., De la O Campos, A., Doss, C., & Slavchevska, V. (2016b). Beyond Ownership: Women’s and Men’s Land Rights in Sub-Saharan Africa (Rep.). Retrieved from http://pubdocs.worldbank.org/en/170131495654694482/A2-ABCA-Slavcheska-et-al-2016-Beyond-ownership-working-paper.pdf
For almost 50 years, Landesa has worked to provide secure land rights to families in the developing world. To date, these reforms have helped “alleviate poverty, reduce hunger and ease conflict over land.” With a presence in over 50 countries, the organization seeks to advance and raise awareness around all facets of land rights, from food security to women’s economic empowerment to agricultural productivity. Landesa was awarded the Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize in 2015 for “partnering with governments to help provide secure land rights to an estimated 115 million families since 1967.” Through research, partnerships and innovative programs around the world, the organization is a leader in the field of sustainable development.
Partnerships and Programs
Landesa partners with governments, local communities and other stakeholders to carry out its programs and advance legal and policy reforms. Government partnerships are crucial to implementing this work, as is a deep understanding of the respective country’s culture and history.
One such partnership in India with government agencies led to an estimated 500 people receiving legal aid from trained paralegals and their local government partners. Another collaboration between Landesa and Namati, a grassroots legal organization, resulted in a joint report from the organizations, highlighting the importance of pro-poor land policy in Myanmar, a prominently agrarian society. The report explores ways for farmers to advocate their land rights and delves into data and fieldwork in the country. By collaborating with various NGOs, government agencies and local communities in myriad capacities, Landesa demonstrates how partnerships are vital to advancing secure land rights for long-term sustainable development.
Landesa and the Hilton Prize Coalition
Landesa remains committed to the goals of the Hilton Prize Coalition, most recently through its involvement in the Hilton Prize Coalition Fellows Program. In 2016, Gloria Jimwaga completed a Hilton Prize Coalition Fellowship at Landesa in Seattle, conducting desk research for the organization’s Center for Women’s Land Rights. She examined large-scale land-based investment in Tanzania and its implications for women’s land rights in the country. “The fellowship is a great way to learn how to incorporate gender relations within the issue of land rights,” says Gloria. Through presentations, networking opportunities and mentorship, Gloria gained a great deal of knowledge not only about Landesa and its work in Tanzania, but about the organization’s global footprint and extensive resources.
Read more about her experience here.
(Hilton Prize Coalition Fellow Gloria Jimwaga with Landesa Founder and Chairman Emeritus, Roy Prosterman)
Ms. Gloria Jimwaga is currently completing a Hilton Prize Coalition Fellowship through Landesa, a Seattle-based land rights NGO and Hilton Prize Laureate. Gloria is pursuing her Master’s Degree in Rural Development and Natural Resources Management from the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU) and also holds a degree from the University of Dar es Salaam. In this blog post, Gloria writes about her experiences as a Spring 2016 Fellow in Seattle through Landesa’s Center for Women’s Land Rights.
Advocating for Women’s Land Rights in Tanzania
by Gloria Jimwaga
My passion for women’s land rights began in 2010 when I began working for HAKIARDHI, The Land Rights Research & Resources Institute, a non-governmental organization that advocates for secure land rights in Tanzania. During my training, I visited a village in Kilindi, Tanzania, home to a patriarchal society where men have greater decision-making power than women. I asked a woman about the land that both she and her husband had owned for years. She replied, “What land? My husband’s land!” I asked her how she would define her land rights, and she said, “It belongs to my husband; if I’m to be divorced I would leave with the bags which I came with.” This conversation made me aware of some of the injustices that women face. I worked at HAKIARDHI for the next four years, driven to support land rights for women and communities.
Tanzania’s land ownership system is among the most progressive within Africa. Legally, Tanzanian women have the same rights as men to hold property and land. The challenge, however, is what happens in practice. In rural areas in Tanzania, women’s land rights are often insecure. Despite women being the drivers of agricultural production in Tanzania, they tend to be alienated and separated from their ownership of land compared to men.
The problem becomes even more complex when dealing with women’s inheritance practices. For example, many women, especially in rural areas, depend on access to land through a man—a father, brother, uncle, or husband. This can become complicated if the man dies, and the issue of inheritance is raised.
(Women participate in land use plan process in Kidabaga, Iringa, Tanzania; photo credit HAKIARDHI)
Women are also too often left out of the household decision-making related to the income generated by their land. Although Tanzanian law protects a woman’s right to participate fully in household decisions, their rights are often circumvented by customary practices. As a woman myself, I would like to see to it that all women in my country have secure land rights that are protected within the legal system and implemented without gender discrimination.
The global food and oil crises have led to an increase of large-scale land investment in Africa. As agricultural investment continues to grow in Tanzania, my fear is that women’s land rights will continue to be swept under the rug, which will have devastating effects in the future.
(Bioshape farm left unattended by investor at Mavuji Villlage Kilwa District, Tanzania; photo credit HAKIARDHI)
As a Hilton Prize Coalition Fellow, I am working with Landesa through the Center for Women’s Land Rights. Landesa has a wealth of experience and knowledge on women’s land rights, and through my fellowship I am conducting research on large-scale land-based investment and its implications for women’s land rights in Tanzania. The research output will identify gender gaps as well as any successful models that exist for supporting women’s land rights, and will include recommendations and opportunities for future initiatives. The fellowship is a great way to learn how to incorporate gender relations within the issue of land rights.
There is an opportunity to further strengthen women’s land rights in Tanzania by addressing both legal and customary gaps. This can be done through legal reforms, research, community awareness building, strengthening of farmers’ associations and by improving the agricultural value chain so that women will be at an advantage. These interventions and strategies will support many women in the realization of their land rights by providing mechanisms to make these rights possible and retainable: Women will no longer state that their land “belongs to my husband only,” but instead will recognize and claim that land “belongs to both of us.”