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Cambridge University Press


Increasing commercialization, population growth and concurrent increases in land value have affected women's land rights in Africa. Most of the literature concentrates on how these changes have led to an erosion of women's rights. This paper examines some of the processes by which women's rights to land are diminishing. First, we examine cases where rights previously utilized have become less important; that is, the incidence of exercising rights has decreased. Second, we investigate how women's rights to land decrease as the public meanings underlying the social interpretation and enforcement of rights are manipulated. Third, we examine women's diminishing access to land when the actual rules of access change. While this situation may sound grim, the paper also explores how women have responded to reductions in access to land. They have mounted both legal and customary challenges to inheritance laws, made use of anonymous land markets, organized formal cooperative groups to gain tenure rights, and manipulated customary rules using woman-to-woman marriages and mother-son partnerships. These actions have caused women to create new routes of access to land and in some cases new rights.


This article has been published in a revised form in African Studies Review. This version is free to view and download for private research and study only. Not for re-distribution, re-sale or use in derivative works. © Cambridge University Press. Reprinted with permission



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