Landownership and the gender gap in agricultural decision-making in northern Ghana

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Agricultural landownership is a source of income, bargaining power, security, and independence. A significant body of research links women’s landownership to their empowerment. Given this body of work, it’s easy to imagine landownership as a direct means of achieving sovereignty for women, especially in developing countries where men are generally much more likely to own land than women. But our recent study in Land Use Policy suggests that the relationship between agricultural landownership and gender equity may be more complicated.

The study uses survey data from farmers in northern Ghana to assess how the relationships between landownership, participation in agriculture, and agricultural decision making differ between men and women. The findings demonstrate that statutory landownership does not always translate to empowerment for female farmers; cultural contexts may play a larger role.

Northern Ghana is a unique setting for research related to landownership and access, since the vast majority of farmland there is under customary tenure. While statutory laws of land access exist, they are often in conflict with existing customary laws. This means that for the most part, customary laws are the primary determinant of who owns land, who inherits land, and who is allowed access to land. These systems of customary land tenure are typically organized patrilineally, and women customarily do not have the right to inherit family land but obtain use rights to this land through their husbands and sons.

Photo credit: Michael Dakwa/Africa Rising

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