SDG Target 5a: Challenges to achieving gender equality on access, ownership, and control over land!

There are two indicators to measure progress towards SDG 5 target 5a Undertake reforms to give women equal rights to economic resources, as well as access to, ownership and control over land… “, namely:

  • Indicator 5.a.1:(a) Proportion of total agricultural population with ownership or secure rights over agricultural land, by sex; and (b) share of women among owners or rights bearers of agricultural land, type of tenure
  • Indicator 5.a.2: Proportion of countries where the legal framework (including customary law) guarantees women’s equal rights to land ownership and/or control

This article is concerned with 5. a.1. A gap in Indicator 5.a.1 is that it does not measure gender gaps in amount of land owned or amount of land over secure rights over land exists. Such an additional indicator is important in the context of “agriculture land grab” in the name of development.  The “Gender and land statistics”[1] of FAO  ( offers interesting insights on the first indicator (including the amount of land), and more.  However, the number of countries for which data was available varied with the kind of indicator from 9 to 104 countries, pointing to huge data gaps.

  • Women constituted 32% of legal agricultural land owners of 17 countries on which data was available, while men constitute 68% of legal agricultural land holders[2] :       Peru scored the least with regard to percentage of women agricultural land owners at 12.7% and Malawi the highest at 57.3%.  Ownership, in this indicator, refers to individual and joint and legal and customary.    The share of women in ownership of agricultural land was higher in Sub Saharan countries than the Latin American ones (with the exception of Ecuador-51%) covered in the sample.  Few South Asian, South East Asian and Middle Eastern countries were covered in the sample[3] .
  • Women constitute only 18% of those who control agricultural holdings in 104 countries (years ranging from 1990-2012), while men constitute 82% of those who control agricultural holdings[4]: That is control over agriculture holding, is less than ownership of agricultural land according to the FAO gender and land statistics, which draws on agriculture census and other data bases An agricultural holder is the civil or juridical person who makes the major decisions regarding resource use and exercises management control over the agricultural holding.  Women in Saudi Arabia were only 0.8% of agricultural holders, while in Cape Verde they were 50.5% of agricultural holders (followed by Lithuania at 47.7%).  The regions of Middle East and North Africa and South Asia scored poorly
  • Women owned 25% of amount of land of household (solely) and 16% of amount of land owned by household (jointly) as per data on 9 countries (data 2004-2012)[5]. While the figure of 41% sole and joint ownership by women of household land is impressive, the data is only from nine countries[6]    In Malawi, women owned 40% of household land individually, while in Nigeria the comparative figure was as low as 4%.   Joint ownership was highest in Uganda at 48% and least in Bangladesh at 2.2%.  This data is from the Living Standard Measurement Studies.
  • Gender differences in incidence of agricultural land ownership persist[7]: Greater proportion of male population (39%) than female population (31%) own agricultural land jointly (data for 23 countries) or solely (data for 19 countries). The differential is higher when only sole ownership is taken (27% of men own agricultural land individually, while only 11% of women own land individually):   This data set draws upon the Demographic Health Survey or Living Standard Survey (2004- 2013). Iraq recorded the lowest proportion of female population owning agricultural land solely or jointly at 2.1%, and Burundi and Rwanda recorded the highest at 54%.  With respect to proportion of females owning agricultural land on individual names, the figures ranged from 1.8% (Nigeria- no data on Iraq) to 32.8% (Malawi).

What does this data point to?

  • Data on gender differences in control over agricultural holding covers more countries than incidence of ownership and amount of household land owned by women.
  • There are gender gaps in incidence of agricultural land ownership (in particular sole ownership), who owns agriculture land, amount of land owned, and control of land holding
  • The maximum gender gap is with regard to control of agricultural holding, legal land ownership, followed by incidence of sole ownership of agricultural land. However, it must be noted the data only on control of agriculture holding can be conclusive as it covers a large sample of countries, while the others do not.

The chances are slim that SDG indicators on access, ownership and control over agricultural land can be achieved.  Lessons from countries like Malawi, Uganda, Rwanda, Corte De Ivory suggest that:

  • Constitutional mandate on gender equality in access, ownership and control agricultural land is helpful
  • Community norm in some of the sub Saharan countries that on marriage a woman gets an independent plot of land helps. This practice now needs to be part of a General Recommendation of CEDAW and made legal so that the rights do not collapse with breakdown of marriage, polygamy or death of husband.
  • A law that before male migration the agricultural land has to be transferred on women’s individual or joint name would help. Land (re) registration has to be simplified.
  • Women’s access, ownership and control of land is higher in matrilineal communities. It is important that this practice is preserved in the context of globalization.
  • Personal laws need to be modified so that they support women’s agricultural ownership rights.
  • human rights groups need to be vibrant in country, and willing to work not only with women but also men on women's land rights, including community and religious leaders (often men)




[3] Countries like Vietnam performed better than Bangladesh and Iraq, but generalisations for sub-regions cannot be made



[6] Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Niger, Nigeria, Malawi, Tajikistan, Tanzania, Uganda, Vietnam


This entry was posted in Uncategorized on October 6, 2018. worodpresst

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Comment by Ranjani K.Murthy on October 17, 2018 at 21:04
Thank you Aasha and Bandana for your comments. There are many data gaps, but let us march, learning from what has worked and what has not in different contexts and for whom. Best Ranjani.
Comment by Bandana Shrestha on October 16, 2018 at 10:12

Hi Ranjani!

As always, very insightful, analytical and informative.

Thank you Ranjani! 

Comment by Aasha Ramesh on October 16, 2018 at 8:32
Thank you Ranjini for this very useful piece on women and land rights. I will share it with the Karnataka group working on the issue. You have provided very useful insights that gives ideas on how we can advocate with the GoK to get first more information about women's land ownership. Second how we can influence any distribution of land to be in the name of women. This is also linked to the fact that women are considered farmers only if they own land. As a result of which women lose out on a lot of agriculture related training offered by the state. We have been taking this issue with the government as women are the bulk in the agricultural sector, offering their labour.

Thank you yet again for this very insightful piece of analysis.

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