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.
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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
On Tuesday, September 19, 2017 a 7.1 magnitude earthquake struck central Mexico, killing more than 220 people to date. At least 11 Hilton Prize Laureates operate in the surrounding region. Through protocols established under the Hilton Prize Coalition Disaster Relief and Resiliency Program, the Coalition is facilitating communications between these organizations to share information that might help to support collective relief efforts. Responses may include resource-sharing among Coalition members in the countries or regions affected to assist with recovery.
Laureates responding in the region include Casa Alianza/Covenant House, ECPAT, Heifer International, IRCT, Landesa, MSF/Doctors Without Borders, Operation Smile, Partners In Health, PATH, SOS Children’s Villages, and The Task Force for Global Health.
Collaboration between the affected organizations is supported by the Coalition’s Clearinghouse, a central repository of information about each respective Laureate organization and its operational capacities. The Clearinghouse function was developed to increase the organization's knowledge of each other’s activities that would promote their ability to work in concert with one another.
Updates on the response efforts underway by Coalition members are being collected and shared on the Coalition's Twitter feed.
(AP Photo: People walk through a neighborhood in Jojutla, Mexico, where many buildings collapsed the day before.)
Through the Hilton Prize Coalition Collaborative Models Program, Landesa and BRAC co-authored the collaborative issue brief, “Land Tenure as a Critical Consideration for Climate Change-Related Displacement in Slow-Onset Disaster Zones.” To coincide with World Environment Day, Jennifer Duncan, Sr. Attorney and Land Tenure Specialist (Landesa), and Ashley Toombs, External Affairs Manager (BRAC), wrote a recent op-ed that highlights recommendations from the issue brief on climate change-related displacement and slow-onset disaster zones.
This piece was originally published by Devex.
The theme of this year’s World Environment Day is connecting people to nature. There is no greater example of that connection than climate change-related displacement caused by slow-onset disasters.
The world will see more frequent and more devastating natural disasters as the effects of climate change intensify. This includes both rapid-onset disasters, such as hurricanes, and slow-onset disasters such as long-term droughts and famines. Slow-onset climate change impacts are often not apparent until it is too late, and they will increasingly disrupt the lives of rural people in the global south, especially the poor, women and children.
Right now, there are 1.4 million children at risk of death from malnutrition, due in part to severe drought caused primarily by climate change. According to United Nations estimates, nearly 20 million people at risk due to famine or near-famine conditions in four countries — South Sudan, Nigeria, Somalia and Yemen.
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.”