Skip to main content

By Phillan Zamchiya and Chilombo Musa

Can formalization help protect women’s rights in land? Can innovative systems of recordal provide safeguards for the vulnerable position of women who hold informal or customary land rights?  In our newest paper, we explore this question by an in-depth investigation into  the complexities of rural certification in the case of Nyimba District, Zambia.

In our paper, we show that certification has triggered the establishment of a new tenure regime that transcends the dualism between Western legal forms of private property and idealised customary systems. Within this agrarian transition, the number of social conflicts over land boundaries have fallen, at least in the short term; women’s perceptions of tenure security have improved; and women’s participation in land administration at the local level has increased. In addition, a significant number of married women have registered residential land and farmland in their own names. 

However, the transition has also produced a number of negative impacts. Multiple land claims by women have been dismissed. Men have continued to dominate power relations in the district. Certification has not necessarily led to greater access to credit, improved agricultural productivity, or a rise in investment. Furthermore, informal land markets have become more expensive with certification producing a veneer of legitimacy for buying and selling customary land, even though such transactions remain, strictly speaking, illegal. On the other hand, agrarian support has been skewed to the benefit of wealthier, better-connected, and dominant women with land-holding certificates and to the detriment of less-powerful women. Accordingly, many of the envisaged benefits of formalization through an evolutionary approach to land tenure rights have not been realised.

Read more