4.1. Differentiated (Yet Interlinked) Matrix of Scenarios of Women’s Land Tenure
This study confirmed that women are highly differentiated groups in their land access and tenure security experiences, with a pattern of somewhat interlinked situations of differences across the three cases. This implies two important issues. First, women are highly differentiated in their land tenure experiences within any system or sub-system of a society. Second, this pattern of differentiation is observable across the three cases because women are part of the structures of the society in which they live. They are also creative agents of their societies.
The differentiated (and yet interlinked) experiences of women across the three cases were collected and used to create a matrix of women’s situations in differentiation. The matrix was designed to show the specific situations and relationships observed across the three cases. The matrix also serves as a tool of visualisation of the differences and similarity in the sources of women’s differentiation across the three cases (see Figure 1
). The descriptions of the factors of women’s differentiation (in land tenure) are different because the data were collected separately from the three different case study areas. Although they lack uniformity in description, the different factors can be easily grouped or categorised based on their similarities (or meanings) in the context of land tenure in SSA.
The matrix of situations that differentiate women in their quest to attain land access and tenure security (Figure 1
) confirms that Luhmann’s [28
] theory of social differentiation applies to women in SSA societies.
shows a set of eight major situations in which women are differentiated in Ghana, Nigeria, and Zimbabwe. The shaded intersections represent similarities in differentiation across two or three of the countries. Intersection G1N2
, and Z2G1
represent the similarity phenomenon in all three countries where land access and tenure security differ according to women of different economic classes in Ghana; rich and poor women in Nigeria; and women of wealthy, middle-class, and poor statuses in Zimbabwe. Women’s situations are described differently in terms of married and single women in Ghana; married and unmarried women in Nigeria; and married, single, and widowed women in Zimbabwe. These differences represent differences in land access and security of tenure, but which are common to all countries as indicated by interaction of G2N7, N7Z5
, and Z5G2.
, and Z1G4
show that women of different biological ages and different life courses in Ghana and Nigeria access land differently with varying levels of tenure security, while women at various intersections of age have different land access and tenure security. Common to Ghana, Nigeria, and Zimbabwe are different tenure situations of women subject to different regimes of inheritance, as shown in the matrix by the meeting of G3N8
, and Z8G3
. In addition, G8Z7
establishes a commonality (in their patterns of differentiation) between Ghana and Nigeria, where the types of land held by women (or women holding or using different types of land) differentiate women in security and access to land.
Furthermore, healthy and sick women (or women of varying health status) form a set of differential classes for women along the spectrum of tenure and security in Ghana, Nigeria, and Zimbabwe. Healthy women are considered to be women with no known disease (or conditions) capable of causing psychological or physical incapacitation. Sick women are considered to be women with a known disease (or condition) capable of causing psychological or physical incapacitation. The matrix shows a correlation in these indicators of differentiation in the intersection of G6N3, N3Z3, and Z3G6. Nonetheless, G5N6, N6Z4, and Z4G5 show the common linkages in the differences that exist among literate and illiterate women in Ghana or educated and uneducated women in Nigeria or women with varying education levels in Zimbabwe, in accessing secure land tenure. Finally, while differences in tenure security arising from differences in women holding political power and women without political power are common to women in Ghana and Nigeria (G7N1), differences between women who are migrants and women who are natives in accessing land tenure security were common in Nigeria (N4), and women with various modes of marriage terminations were recorded as a source of difference in women land access and security of land tenure in Zimbabwe. Consequently, these measures of differences led to the classification of sources of differentiation among women into broad categories.
4.3. How Differentiation Informs Land Tenure in Nigeria, Ghana, and Zimbabwe
This section draws on the differentiating criteria identified in the matrix to explain how they impact on land tenure in the three case studies. The criteria used by the authors are not exhaustive, but have been selected to highlight how differentiation informs tenure security.
4.3.1. Economic Status of Women
Women use economic resources to negotiate access to land (or possess and use) and contest threats to their tenure security. Women’s ability to mobilise resources for the use of land determine their land tenure security.
The three cases showed that wealth determined the type of activities women engage in as a way of gaining access to land. A woman’s capacity to mobilise financial resources increases her capacity to mobilise labour, inputs, and other resources (including title registration) needed to secure, defend, and benefit from the land. The reverse is true of less wealthy women. In Ghana, Nigeria, and Zimbabwe, women who had high economic status (breadwinners) were found to know more about financial issues related to land matters. In the same countries, women who are dependent on their husbands (or on someone else) were found to lack the requisite knowledge (and had less awareness about) for land transactions. In Ghana, women with high economic status bought or leased plots of land for expanded farming investments. In Nigeria, such women focused more on buying land to invest in small-scale commercial building (shops or stalls) for rental purposes. In Zimbabwe, the same kind of women invested in residential rental property.
4.3.2. Type of Land Used or Owned by Women
The type of land can differentiate women’s tenure. Women’s land tenure status can be differentiated by the kind of land they own or use, or the rights they may hold in land. For example, although all residents in customary tenure areas are primarily regarded as subsistence farmers, women who have secured land on the (vernacular) land market may have less secure tenure than those who acquired the land by allocation from their family and or the traditional authority and/or inherited land from their own family lineage. In the three countries, women who are dependent on agricultural land tend to be more insecure than women who have access to building land in the case of large-scale land acquisitions for agricultural purposes.
As the notion in many areas of Ghana is that the land belongs to the paramount chief (and he can choose to do what he likes with the land), the chances of women gaining access to land depends on their loyalty to the Chiefdom, traditional rulers, and the community. Women holding agricultural land or farmlands do so at the mercy of the Chiefs. In the case of Nigeria, Chiefs are not that powerful (as in Ghana). Thus, Nigerian women tend to exercise more freedom in their choice of land types. Despite the power of Chiefs in Ghana, women who owned land personally showed higher freedom in their use of the land. Most of them put the land to mixed uses (for commercial stalls, as well as residential and gardening purposes). However, those who had co-ownership of land rights used the land mostly for residential purposes in Zimbabwe. In Nigeria, those who directly derived land use rights from their husbands (or other relatives) had to use the land only for farming, and based on the dictates of their husband (or relatives) from whom they gained access to the land.
4.3.3. Health Status and/or Burden of Care of Women
The health status and/or burden of care of women is a source of differentiation. Ill women and/or those who are looking after ill family members may face challenges to mobilise adequate labour to work the land and/or benefit from natural resources. The Zimbabwe case’s focus on Human immunodeficiency virus infection and acquired immune deficiency syndrome (HIV/AIDS) impact illustrates how the ill members were the primary wage earners, so their illness undermined the household’s access to cash and labour. In Nigeria and Ghana, women with known mental illness (usually referred to as mad women) become stigmatised and usually have their relatives take over their land properties. The health status of a woman determines her capacity to use the land or lose it to those in a better position to do so.
4.3.4. Marital Status of Women
Marriage is a strategic institution that mediates women’s access to land in all three cases. The terms on which married or divorced women hold land in the three communities varies and differentiates their tenure security. Although literature homogenises women who are outside marriage as “women-headed households”, the Zimbabwe case illustrates the differentiation among these. The case illustrates that the way in which a marriage ended informs the tenure security. Widows who continued to live on the land that was originally allocated to their deceased husband hold the land on different terms to those accorded to a yet unmarried adult woman in the same village. Women who never married acquired derived land rights from their male guardian, usually a father and/or brother. The tenure was subject to decisions by the primary land rights holder.
The way in which a marriage ends has different implications on women’s land tenure security. In all three countries, the terms on which divorced, widowed, and/or separated women hold land is not the same. In the Nigerian case, women married under customary marriage are not necessarily entitled to a fraction of the land (even if it was bought together with their husbands), but may live in their home until death. In the Zimbabwean case, widows may continue to inhabit the land left behind by their dead husbands even if they do not have sons within their household. They can also sell their inherited land on the property market, and thus enjoy the same tenure status as men do within their communities. In Ghana, widows (in the matrilineal societies and in the absence of a customary will, called nsamansew) are left to access land through their maternal relatives (as a matter of family obligation) at the demise of their husbands. This is different in Nigeria, where the women are expected to be accommodated by the family of their demised husband.
4.3.5. Education Status of Women
In the three countries, the number of years women spend in school educational attainment affects how they access land and how secure they feel about their rights or ownership in land. Educated women are informed about their rights and laws concerning land. They are either best placed to take initiatives to secure land or rights over land or defend their rights anytime they come under threat. Thus, educated women usually have higher tenure security than uneducated women.
An example of differentiated tenure among educated women in Ghana is the case of two women (according key informant interview) with different levels of education (one was a university graduate and the other a primary school dropout). They were both allocated land by the traditional authority. However, the university graduate went ahead to survey her parcel of land and processed a lease from the Traditional Authority. The other woman did not document her parcel. During a dispute in the area, there was need to provide proof of ownership. The graduate produced her land documents as proof of land rights. The other woman could provide no documented proof. The educated woman used her land documents as a basis for defending her right over a contested part of the land, and this was accepted by the traditional authority, while the uneducated woman could not provide proof for her land. These sorts of scenarios are indicative of the role that difference in education (or literacy level) could play in women’s access to land. Educated women tend to ensure evidence of tenure security when compared with uneducated women.
4.3.6. Life Cycle Stage of Women
In Zimbabwe, older women have stronger decision-making powers on land than younger women. As a result, they have more secure tenure than younger women do. Older women have more secure tenure because tenure security status emanates from negotiations over time as they lived; fulfilled their traditional roles, for instance, giving birth to children (especially male children); and then earned the right to have land allocations as independent landholders.
In all three countries, older women are usually more vulnerable to accusations of witchcraft and this can weaken their negotiation power over land, because such accusations can lead to their being ostracised. This may undermine their security of tenure.
In the three countries, this study found age to be a limiting factor to women’s ability to put land to productive use. In Zimbabwe, aged women become more recognised in their societies and are encouraged to take up leading decisions in community affairs. This makes it easier for them to access land by getting more involved in decisions on land in their communities. In some jurisdictions, older women tend to enjoy security of tenure because people are of the belief that people who interfere with their land would be hunted by the spirits of these women when they die.
In Nigeria, this is different—women may become more recognised in the affairs of their communities, but this recognition is limited outside the boundaries of land-use decisions, because land is tied to kinships. In Ghana, women are mainly viewed to be weaker at a later age and in the matriarchal societies, age weakens women’s control over land. This usually leads to less access for women at an old age (above 69 years). This is highly evident in cocoa growing communities.
4.3.7. Inheritance Regime in Which Women Live
The inheritance regime in which women live can influence their tenure security experience. Women living in patriarchal societies, as in Nigeria and Zimbabwe, access land through their sons, husbands, and male relatives. On the contrary, women from matrilineal societies (as in Ghana) access land through their mothers or maternal relatives. The matrilineal societies in Ghana are not matriarchies in the conventional sense of the term. Rather, they constitute maternally lining inheritance cultures lacking leadership of the socio-political institutions by a woman (or women). These matrilineal regimes entail a form of socio-political arrangement whereby descent and relationship transit through maternal lines. The matrilineal regime does not generally translate to easier access to land for women than in patriarchal societies that are kinship based. However, where land is accessed and put to use in matrilineal regimes, the women felt more secure than those from patriarchal regimes.
4.3.8. Women’s Settlement Area (e.g., Urban, Rural, or Peri-Urban)
There is a spatial perspective to women’s tenure experiences. In Ghana, women living in peri-urban areas faced more challenges of legal pluralism in their access to land compared with their rural counterparts, whose tenure is customary by nature. Land acquisition processes were confusing because of the predominant practice of a mix of customary and statutory tenure by women. While legal pluralism is a national issue in Ghana, urbanisation activates the full flare of its effects when statutory land acquisition processes, which are characteristic of urban areas, come into conflict with customary land acquisition processes. In Nigeria, women accessed land in the rural areas through customary tenure (with less problems of legal pluralism). In Zimbabwe, women who accessed land in the peri-urban areas faced less legal pluralism and did not encounter procedural challenges (in land acquisition processes) like the women in Nigeria and Ghana. The women in peri-urban areas indicated that they have lower perception of tenure security, whereas those from rural areas indicated higher perception of tenure security within the same countries. These experiences are indicative that women’s land tenure situations are highly distinguishable from those that live in rural, urban, and peri-urban areas.
4.3.9. Migrant Status of Women
Women who are non-natives versus women who are natives of the place from which they hold land rights or ownerships. In Zimbabwe, this differentiates women who were working for land holders in the village—they had weaker land tenure than the women born in the village and/or married in the village. The women-workers’ tenure was tied to their employment, while the other women could negotiate their tenure. In Ghana and Nigeria, women who emigrated into customary communities had less access to land than those who were natives or born by parents from the same customary communities. In Nigeria, migrant women were considered as ndị ọbịa (an Igbo term for non-natives in the rural or customary parlance). Being a nonindigenous woman in Ghana and Nigeria limits access to land because of a lack of lineage linkage to kinships or matriarchies. In the customary area of Ghana, women of native origins may be entitled (in relation to the right to land) to build a residence and/or hold a farmland. In the same place, women of migrant origins may not enjoy similar rights or privilege. This means that what may constitute a land right to a native woman may be a land restriction to a migrant woman.
4.3.10. Women’s Relationship (to Those) with Power
The relationship of the woman to those who wield power over land and natural resources also informs her land tenure security. The Zimbabwe research illustrated that a woman whose husband, father, son, and/or uncle was the customary leader was less vulnerable to eviction from their land when they became widowed, while those who were not related were more vulnerable to arbitrary decisions that undermined their land rights. In Ghana and Nigeria, women who held influential positions, like queen mothers, princesses and chiefs’ wives, or women group leaders (and their relatives), may have had more power than women who were ordinary citizens. Women use this power to negotiate and defend land access.