Invisible Barriers: Land Tenure for Women in Ghana

I attended a gender sensitivity training put on by a partner of ADVANCE. The training was given to two offices with whom I’m trying to work, so I thought it would be a good opportunity to meet and get to know everyone at the training. I had a lot of pre-conceived notions about what a gender sensitivity training would entail, and thought it might be good fodder for some jokes. As it turns out, how the program impacts men and women differently is actually pretty interesting. There are a lot of nuanced cultural traditions that skew the equitable distribution of benefits.

We were divided into three groups and each asked to represent a different actor in the value chain – traders, processors, and farmers. We did a role play exercise where I pretended to be the owner of a rice mill and I discussed how I employ men and women in my business. Each group did something similar, and the next two days were spent drilling down on the reasons that things are the way they are. Towards the end of the training, everyone voted on the most relevant roadblocks that relegate one gender (typically women) to a disadvantaged position. One of those problems was the system of title exchange, which effectively excludes women from owning land and, as a consequence, developing farms.

There are legal and regulatory systems in place that are designed to provide women access to land rights, but, in practice, they don’t do much for the most vulnerable populations. In the rural areas where tradition and religion supersede constitutional law, women have few rights when it comes to land tenure, and are often left without legal recourse when their husbands die.  This UN article from 2008 explains this dynamic:

In Ghana the 1985 Intestate Succession Law and the Head of Household Accountability Law were both intended to create greater security for widows and children. If a man died without a will, the succession law decreed that his property would be equally divided and distributed among his widow, children and other members of the extended family. Yet an FAO study in Ghana’s Upper Volta Region found that few women knew of either law and that customary practices continued to determine inheritance. This left many women without access to land after the death of their partner.

Land rights are critical for getting ahead in business.  Land titles can be used as collateral in securing a loan from a bank.  In some cases, it could be the only asset of any meaningful value for some people.  Without it, it is difficult to meet the collateral requirements of most banks.  In addition, owning land eliminates the risk of a landlord raising the rent unexpectedly or losing the lease.  It gives the bank comfort knowing that you are going to be there for the long haul.

The forms to apply for a loan are not different for men and women, nor are the requirements for approval.  On the surface, the opportunities are the same.  But dig deeper and you see that those barriers do exist, and are a challenge to address.

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