Women and Secure Property Rights: A How-To Primer on Effective Reform in Developing Countries

Resource Library | Author Susan Corts Hill, Matthew Seamon | Date December 2014

Women in many parts of the developing world face numerous challenges unique to their gender. One of these challenges relates to a right that both men and women in the developed world most likely take for granted: the ability to legally own land and property in their own name. The barriers to secure property rights are varied, complicated, and often intertwined. Laws in many countries—either intentionally or simply by omission—do not recognize the property rights of women or they treat their rights as secondary to the rights of men. Thus, reforming the laws or policies is often an important first step in effecting change in women’s lives. However, in many countries lack of awareness is frequently seen as the single biggest obstacle to successfully implementing new laws regarding women’s property rights. Women do not turn to the law when they are wrongfully denied property because they simply do not know that they have these rights, and even women who do know and understand their rights often feel pressure not to assert them. Legal assistance programs, such as community-based paralegal programs and legal aid clinics, can be effective at remedying the legal and economic barriers women faces in accessing the legal system and pursuing enforcement of their property rights.