More needs to be done to strengthen women's right to land in Rwanda

 In some instances this implementation has even led to new forms of discrimination. In order to be more effective, new laws should show greater sensitivity to customary systems and the complex reality of the existence of the local population. This is the conclusion of a thesis produced at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden.

The Land Registration and Titling (LRT) Program in Rwanda, launched as part of a broader reform programme in 2006 and expanded to cover the whole country in 2009, had as one of its aims to strengthen women’s right to land. An elaboration of gender-sensitive land laws and policies has challenged some gender norms and ideologies related to male supremacy. However, deeply rooted customary practices and socio-cultural norms make this implementation difficult; even more so, since implementers of the new laws at local level often lack knowledge of these and also lack the will to put them into practice.
“The idea of women’s subordination to men is transmitted from parent to child, and also via schools, religious institutions, media and so on. This sustains gender hierarchies,” says Jeannette Bayisenge, author of the thesis.

She has studied the implementation of the LRT Program through field work conducted in 2012 and 2013, when she interviewed 480 women from agricultural households in conjunction with twenty-three semi-structured interviews and nine focus group discussions with local level policy implementers, women and members of women’s associations.

Jeannette Bayisenge found that even though more women today are fighting for their right to land, more awareness needs raising about the new laws. And women need more support in order to have the courage to claim their rights.
“Women have a weaker bargaining position than men. In my study, women cite their lack of knowledge, inability to present their case, fear of community disapproval, fear of their husbands, fear of in-laws, lack of confidence, time constraints and financial means as being some of the main factors that can discourage them from claiming their right,” says Jeannette Bayisenge.
“Women are stuck between exercising their right to claim a piece of land and their concern not to compromise their relationships with their husbands, families, community and society as whole.”

The new laws themselves also perpetuate inequalities; for instance, they require women to be in a monogamous and registered marriage, yet one in three women in the country is not.
“Even though banned by law today, polygamous marriages still exist. Women in such marriages, as well as women who enter into non-registered marriages, are not covered by the law.”

Jeannette Bayisenge also found that the reluctance of local implementers to enforce the new laws is another hurdle if change is to happen. Many implementers have scant knowledge about these laws, but their reluctance also stems from the fact that the implementation process takes a top-down perspective whereas local implementers try to be sensitive to the local context.

Jeannette Bayisenge recommends that new laws and policies should in future be integrated more gradually into the complex and diverse reality of the local population.
“Policymakers should continue looking at ways to adapt new policies to the local context, and to implement them cautiously and gradually rather than imposing them on people,” Jeannette Bayisenge says.

More information
Name of the thesis: Changing Gender Relations? Women’s Experiences of Land Rights in the Case of the Land Tenure Reform Program in Rwanda.
Contact: Jeannette Bayisenge, Department of Social Work, [email protected], [email protected]
The thesis can be downloaded at:

BY: Lars-Olof Karlsson
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