Land policy reform: the role of land markets and women's land rights in Malawi

Land policy reform: the role of land markets and women's land rights in Malawi

Author: S. Holden, R. Kaarhus, R. Lunduka
Publisher: Noragric, Department of International Environment and Development Studies, Norwegian University of Life Sciences
Publication Date: Jan 2006
Malawi is facing increasing land scarcity and food insecurity for its large rural population and is in the midst of an on-going land policy reform process. This report asks how these reforms may affect women's land rights in a situation of increasing scarcity and competition for land. Reforms include the formalisation of customary land rights as private land rights as a way to ensure tenure security and equitable access to land. It warns that through this approach, women's rights may become increasingly marginalised. This would not only be in the informal family and lineage negotiations over rights and access to land. This is likely to also be in the bargaining processes related to the implementation of land reform policies and programmes. For example, in the implementation of a pilot land reform a clear gender bias in the implementation emerged, favouring men.

The paper argues that:
? in order to counteract these tendencies, special mechanisms that protect women against direct discrimination and more indirect processes of marginalisation should be established in Malawi;
? one strategy could be to establish a stronger legal basis for the joint ownership of land by spouses or, at least, the prevention of the disposal of a household's land assets by husbands without the consent of their wives;
? a second approach would involve the establishment of legal instruments so that women can maintain their rights to land upon the death of their spouses.