Tanzanian law grants women the same rights as men to access, own and control land, and allows them to participate in decision-making on land matters. However, even if women formally have the legal right to own land under the 1998 Land Act, women rarely buy land. According to USAID, in 2015, only 20 percent of women possessed land in their own names in Tanzania. Instead household land is commonly titled only in the name of the male head of the household and women access it through their spouses or male relatives, meaning they often end up losing it if those men die. Also, women are not only significantly less likely to own land than men, the land they do own is usually smaller and of poorer quality than that owned by men. Several reasons lie behind this gender disparity.
Even where formal land and property laws do not discriminate against women, enforcement of those laws can be challenging. The rights may not be clearly defined, other laws (such as customary law) may be inconsistent with land laws guaranteeing equal rights, and enforcement institutions may be weak or reflect deeply rooted traditional attitudes that suggest women should not be equal participants in ownership of land. In Tanzania, customary norms have made it hard for women to obtain land.
Customary regimes are often determined by cultural and religious institutions that typically favor the rights of men over women. Men generally are considered “owners” of the land and custom often allows them to sell land without permission from their spouses, choose what crops to grow, and control income from the land. In addition, land is usually transferred though inheritance, and it is almost always men who inherit the land. Moreover, social norms about appropriate behavior and roles for women can prevent them from realizing land rights. Claiming a right to land may result in household conflict and the loss of support from extended family, social costs that women may be unwilling or unable to bear. Furthermore, women may not be fully aware of their rights to own land due to lack of educational opportunity, or may lack the financial resources needed to exercise those rights.
Research shows that women in Africa, including Tanzania, undertake almost half of the agricultural labour. Without legal control over the land they farm and the proceeds of their labour, women have neither the incentive, security, nor opportunity to improve their harvests. To improve food security (SDG number 2) and women’s status (SDG number 5), is essential to meet our global goals. In order to do this, women’s relationship to the land needs to change from farm labourer to farm owner and manager.
When women have secure land and property rights they gain improved status which leads to greater influence over household decisions (SDG number 5). Such influence is significant because women are more likely than men to make decisions that improve the household’s welfare, including decisions regarding food and nutrition needs (leading to SDG number 2 and 3). Furthermore, when women have direct control over assets like land and the income from those assets, they are more likely than men to spend the income on the next generation. Also, women with land rights generally have enhanced status and greater bargaining and decision-making power at home and in their communities. Security of tenure can also encourage women to invest in the land, adopt sustainable farming practices and take better care of agricultural land (SDG number 15).
Key ingredients to improving access to land among women include legal recognition elevating women’s land rights to equal those of men, legal recognition of women’s inheritance rights and joint registration of spousal land rights. Supporting elements include conducting education, awareness and information campaigns highlighting women’s land rights and having an open and accessible appeal system to address the concerns of any aggrieved parties.