Protecting women’s livelihoods through gender-equitable land governance in sub-Saharan Africa

As commercial pressures on land increase in East and West Africa, there is a need for evidence and action on gender-equitable land governance.

January 2014 - August 2022
Law, economies and justice
A collaborative programme of work on renegotiating the law to promote fairer, more sustainable economies
A small-scale farmer in Tanzania

A small-scale farmer in Tanzania. Insecure rights and weak land governance are major challenges to ensuring that local landholders benefit from agricultural investments (Photo: copyright Alun McDonald/Oxfam)

IIED has been actively working to promote gender-sensitive land governance in sub-Saharan Africa since 2014.

After having improved their understanding of local contexts and existing challenges of gender-equitable land governance in East and West Africa (2014-16), IIED and in-country partners developed and tested innovative approaches to strengthen rural women’s voices in local land governance in Ghana, Tanzania and Senegal (2016-19).

In January 2020, IIED started a third phase of this initiative by aiming to assess the impacts of the approaches that were previously developed to strengthen women’s voices in land governance, and test innovative strategies to mainstream gender in processes such as land demarcation and mapping, land use planning and certification in areas of Senegal and Tanzania.


Land is the backbone of livelihoods in most of rural Africa. Agriculture and other land-based activities are key to food security, income and employment.

Since the mid-2000s, a wave of investments in commercial agriculture, mineral extraction and large infrastructure projects across sub-Saharan Africa has resulted in increased commercial pressures on land. If investments have the potential to benefit local communities when well designed, evidence suggests that they more often lead to land loss and poor compensation, ultimately resulting in negative impacts on local livelihoods.

Although impacts are varied and context-specific, research indicates that they tend to affect women more severely than men, as changes in land use resulting from investment often lead to land traditionally used by women being taken away. In order to mitigate those impacts and protect women’s access to land and livelihoods, there is an imperative to promote better and more inclusive land governance that takes gender dimensions into account.

What has IIED done?

IIED's research has highlighted the continuing lack of women’s voices and participation in land governance in the context of commercial pressures on land. This is reflected in gender-discriminatory household- and community-level land-related decision-making processes, in barriers for women to activate accountability mechanisms and in the lack of women in leadership positions.

Well-meaning but ill-designed land interventions that neglect gender can worsen conditions for women. In-depth understanding of the issues and barriers, and concrete experiences and operational tools to address gender issues in large-scale land deal-making, remain very limited.

From 2016-19 IIED and in-country partners implemented activities aimed at strengthening women’s voices in local land governance across East and West Africa.

This second phase of the project included developing, testing and/or upscaling locally-negotiated solutions to enhance women’s participation in local-level decision-making processes on land in areas of Ghana, Senegal and Tanzania where pressures are particularly acute; engaging with policy and law reform to promote more gender-equitable land governance; and disseminating lessons learnt internationally to influence policy and practice.

In each country, IIED worked with local partners who developed tailored interventions responding to the different national contexts. In Tanzania, IIED and the Tanzania Women Lawyers Association (TAWLA) supported the adoption of village sensitive by-laws across the whole Kisarawe District; in Ghana, we worked with the Network for Women's Rights in Ghana (NETRIGHT) and The Grassroot Sisterhood Foundation (GSF) to revive and strengthen Community Land Development Committees (CLDCs) which include female members; and in Senegal, we collaborated with IED Afrique to promote women’s participation in the works of land commissions.

The approaches built on existing governance arrangements; building strong foundations for upscaling. In all countries, the initiatives led to positive outcomes for women in the focus communities while also benefiting those communities more widely.

A number of elements were identified as enabling factors that contributed to the success of the approaches, including local buy-in and participatory dialogue strategies.

In each country, partners developed activities to influence policy and practice. In Tanzania and Ghana, partners engaged with ongoing land-reform processes to ensure that gender dimensions were taken into account. In Senegal, IED Afrique established a national platform to promote lesson sharing and ensure coordinated action among local civil society organisations working to promote gender-sensitive land governance, and organised a multi-stakeholder national level engagement meeting on gender and land.

What is IIED doing?

The latest phase of the project, which started in January 2020, aims to assess the impacts of the approaches that were previously developed to strengthen women’s voices in local governance in Senegal and Tanzania, as well as build on the lessons from the previous phases to test innovative strategies to mainstream gender in processes such as land demarcation and mapping, land use planning and certification. 

In-country activities are being led by local organisations, namely IED Afrique in Senegal and TAWLA in Tanzania. IIED will ensure overall coordination of the project.

Additional resources

Routes to change: rural women’s voices in land, climate and market governance in sub-Saharan Africa, Philippine Sutz, Emilie Beauchamp, Anna Bolin (2021), Project report

Video presentation: Strengthening women’s voices in public and private governance (April 2021)

Our partners have made films about their work to support women's land rights. You can watch the videos in a playlist below, or on IIED's YouTube channel.

The individual videos are: