This article lends support to RISD’s overarching assertion that securing women’s land rights in Rwanda is the first vital step towards the empowerment of women at the grassroots; however, it is not panacea. As debates on women’s land rights in Africa revolve around understanding the barriers that prevent women’s access to, control over and use of land (e.g., UN, 2013; Odeny, 2013), this article infers that, for fruition of LTRP to be fully realized, it is necessary to break the synergies of these intervening complex barriers.

Inferences were drawn from the data gathered using rapid appraisal techniques (women-focused group discussions and key informant interviews) which RISD conducted in the districts of Gazabo, Kamonyi and Musanze in September 2015.

Barriers to women with secure land rights

The barriers relate to two distinct factors: (i) women’s knowledge base, and (ii) prevailing societal norms and hierarchies which the UN (2013) was apt to describe as discriminatory cultural attitudes and practices that built on highly patriarchal structures.

Knowledge base. This includes perceptions on matters that respondents considered vital, viz.

  • The lack or little knowledge and information on land laws, land policies, and gender equality concepts. In community land dispute resolutions for instance where women expressed being treated equally with men by Abunzis or community mediators, the women yearned for more knowledge and information on land laws and policies for their own update and upkeep. Currently, their sources of information are their community (village local leaders, land sector officer, Abunzis), social networks (neighbours and friends, church), RISD, and, to a limited extent, radio. While commending these sources, the respondents however expressed the need for more updates and to exhaust venues for information-sharing like the parents’ evening meetings called “umuguroba w’Ababyeyi”[1].
  • The lack of awareness on governmental support programs that encourage the financial inclusion of women in formal financial streams. These programs would have helped women cope with loan application forms and requirements, which they felt too technical to understand, and thus their reluctance to apply or to drop out after a first attempt. In a case like this, women were said to finally leave processing of applications to their husbands or male members of the household.

Prevailing societal norms and hierarchies, which effectually dictate the power relations between women and men. These barriers manifested as follows:

  • Women’s lower participation rate in loan applications vis-à-vis men’s higher participation rate, which was said as accounted for by the following: (i) men have always been regarded as heads of the household and, as such, they are seen responsible for household financial and banking transactions. Women persistently view that the husband’s bank account is that of the family’s hence women refuse to open their own accounts; (ii) women persistently fear their husband’s wrath if and when they would propose for a loan application, and (iii) “misrepresentation” of women applicants on men in cases where women applicants are granted bigger loans: women register their names as applicant, but men come to collect the money.
  • Conflicting yet competing power relations between women and men that result from (i) prevailing mindset among men who still think they control women. Women, on the other hand, are complacent to such mentality; (ii) men’s lack of respect on women’s land rights; (iii) men, being more aware of land rights, take advantage of women’s ignorance; (iv) women’s difficulty of understanding the concept of “gender equality” and thought of it as a means to control their husbands. Mindset like this eventually emerges as sources of dispute.

Cited References:
Odeny, M. (2013). “Improving Access to Land and Strengthening Women’s Land Rights in Africa”, a paper presented on the Annual World Bank Conference on Land and Poverty, Washington DC, April 8-11.

UN (2013). “Realizing Women’s Rights to Land and Other Productive Resources”.

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