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Gender, land and accountability in the context of agricultural and other natural resource investments

A small-scale farmer in Tanzania. (Photo: IIED)

Building on lessons learned and achievements of the ‘Gender, land and accountability’ project – a two-year project which aimed to improve the understanding of local contexts and existing challenges of gender-equitable land governance in East and West Africa –, this initiative develops and tests innovative approaches to strengthen rural women’s voices in land governance. It also promotes national-level multi-stakeholder dialogue to advance a policy and law reform agenda on gender equitable land governance in Ghana, Senegal and Tanzania and will share lessons learned internationally.


A recent wave of large-scale land deals for agribusiness investments, alongside investments in extractive industries, population growth and expanding land markets, has resulted in increased commercial pressures on land and livelihoods across sub-Saharan Africa. If natural resources investments have the potential to benefit local communities, research suggests that they also often impact those communities negatively and that vulnerable groups, and in particular women, tend to lose out more. Although impacts on women and men are varied and context-specific, research shows that changes in land use can result in land traditionally used by women being given away; women working longer hours, including to provide food and water for the household; and men benefitting more than women from new employment opportunities.

Over the past two years, IIED has been implementing the ‘Gender, land and accountability’ initiative, which aimed to support the emergence of a community of practice promoting gender-equitable land governance as commercial pressures on land increase. The initiative worked with partners in Ghana, Kenya, Senegal and Tanzania, and with experts and practitioners from across East and West Africa. It improved understanding of the relevant local contexts and existing challenges in the four selected geographies; it instigated a multi-stakeholder national dialogue on gender-equitable land governance in each geography, feeding local voices and innovations into national-level debate amongst key actors; documented local voices to raise awareness nationally and internationally on these issues; and promoted regional lesson-sharing and awareness-raising on opportunities and challenges to secure women’s land rights and strengthen rural women’s livelihood opportunities in the context of natural resources investments.

Work to date 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.

At the same time, the project identified a number of innovative approaches with the potential to strengthen women’s voices in land governance, including locally negotiated solutions that increase women’s participation in household and community-level decision-making. In each country, the project also identified a number of entry points at the local and national levels for strengthening women’s voice and participation in land governance. Importantly, the project kick-started national and regional-level lesson sharing and dialogue among experts and practitioners working to strengthen women’s voices in land governance.

There is thus now a pressing need to: seize the opportunities created by these advances to develop and further test innovative practical approaches to strengthen women’s voices in land governance in order to increase their control over their livelihood options; feed findings into and promote national-level debates; and share lessons with a wider range of stakeholders internationally, including civil society, government and the private sector.