Study shows how training is shaping women’s awareness of their land rights
A recent study of two Senegalese villages showed how training women on land access is helping them claim their land rights. But disparities in results between locations and the use of customary practices as the preferred way of accessing land highlighted that civil society organisations' (CSOs) strategies and approaches need to reflect local realities, and ensure women from different groups and geographies also benefit.
Despite Senegal’s favourable legal framework, women ̶ representing a large portion (68%) of the agricultural workforce (PDF, French language only) – face many challenges in accessing land, aggravated by significant commercial land pressures. Disparities in land access are increasing inequality between men and women and widening the gender poverty gap. This is particularly the case in rural areas.
In January 2021, as part of a new phase of this project, IED Afrique carried out quantitative and qualitative data collection to inform a baseline study on the challenges women face in accessing and retaining control over land in two communes: Darou Khoudoss (Thiès region) and Mbadakhoune (Kaolack region).
The data showed that women in Darou Khoudoss – where IED Afrique had implemented previous phases of the project – were very aware of land tenure issues and were determined to claim their rights.
Ndeye Ndack Mbaye, president of a Darou Khoudoss women's group and a municipal councillor explained: "In the past, women did not dare to claim land and their rights were not considered. They were often not claiming their share of inheritance. Women in our community now have the determination to access land. Women are also more aware of the enormous economic potential that land holds.”
Ndack Mbaye explained these shifts are the result of numerous capacity building and training sessions on land rights, run largely by local civil society organisations (CSOs).
Women in Mbadakhoune have not benefitted from the type of CSO training carried out in Darou Khoudoss. And our investigations showed they are not actively seeking to access and control land, and are less aware of land rights and proceedings. "Here in Mbadakhoune, some women do not even know they have the right to access and control land, and others do not know how to access this land," explained Adam Diouf, president of the Mbadakhoune Union of Women's Promotion Groups.
Aicha Sy, president of a women's promotion group and departmental councillor of Guinguinéo added, "Not a single woman in Mbadakhoune has requested land allocation with the commune. We don't even know the procedures for accessing the land."
Multiple interventions lead to greater awareness of land tenure issues…
Darou Khoudoss has been heavily impacted by mining extraction, considerably reducing the land available for allocation to community members and weakening women’s already poor tenure security. Interventions – carried out mostly by Senegalese CSOs – have helped promotion of better land governance and strengthening of women's land rights.
These have included capacity building activities on land legislation that target local women; awareness raising activities on women's land rights; support to land allocation requests and the development of tools for inclusive land governance.
Mbadakhoune, on the other hand, has seen very few interventions aimed at promoting good local land governance and women’s land rights – despite pressures on land becoming an increasing concern.
The multiple and complementary interventions in Darou Khoudoss have clearly helped raise women’s awareness of land tenure issues and their determination to claim land.
According to the village chief: “In recent years, with the various awareness-raising and training campaigns carried out by local NGOs on women's land rights, women have become increasingly aware of land issues and are now claiming their share of the land.”
…but women's control over land remains limited
Data from Darou Khoudoss shows that with more awareness of their rights, women are accessing more land. But this access remains relatively limited: 42% of women have land access compared to 72% for men. More work is needed.
The data also shows that women are accessing land primarily through purchase and inheritance, two traditional modes of access which – although embedded in society – are not legally recognised (as opposed to land that is allocated by the municipal council).
Interestingly, in this situation, land access for both genders is the same: only 6% of women as well as men have formal access to land. This suggests that despite the multiple interventions neither men nor women are prioritising formal ways of accessing land that would give them secure tenure in the eyes of the law.
This situation can be explained in part by the limited land available to be formally allocated by the commune due to the amount of land already allocated to mining companies as well as the creation of a (classified) restoration zone. But we believe it is also largely the result of prevailing historical customary practices which are more socially legitimate and which community members therefore consider more 'secure'.
This reminds us that Senegal’s land governance practices are complex – and of the importance of adopting policies and laws that recognise local realities. Women's land access cannot be addressed in a silo but must be integrated in a wider reflection on the suitability of the formal land governance system to protect legitimate tenure rights.
In Darou Khoudoss we also found significant disparities between the different villages in terms of awareness of land issues – in particular, awareness is much lower in villages furthest from the centre of the commune.
This is likely due to how and where CSOs implement capacity building and awareness raising activities, as they tend to target the same groups of actors: political leaders, women's groups leaders and village authorities, most of whom live in the central area of the commune.
As a result, interventions do not reach more remote villages. Intervening organisations should look at diversifying those they target and developing strategies so diverse geographies and actors benefit.
All this said, we want to stress that change driven by local interventions is iterative and can take time – progress should be measured in the long term. But if we are to strengthen women’s land rights in Senegal, any policies implemented must recognise the complexity of the country’s land governance practices; CSOs must also coordinate their interventions to ensure they reach a diverse range of actors.
IED Afrique is currently considering ways to refine its strategy to take these points into account and develop more suited approaches.