Could mapping initiatives catalyze the interpretation of customary land rights in ways that secure women's land rights?

Gaynor Paradza, Lebogang Mokwena, Walter Musakwa

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)


Although land forms the basis for marginal livelihoods in Sub-Saharan Africa, the asset is more strategic for women as they usually hold derived and dependent rights to land in customary tenure areas. Initiatives to secure women's land tenure in customary areas are undermined by the social embeddedness of the rights, patriarchy, lack of awareness by the communities, legal pluralism, and challenges of recording the rights. As pressure on customary land tenure increases due to foreign and local land-based investment interests, land titling initiatives, tourism, and mineral resources exploration, communities and women within them are at real risk of losing their land, the basis of their livelihoods. Women stand to lose more as they hold tenuous land rights in customary land tenure areas. Accordingly, this study analyzes case studies of selected mapping initiatives in Sub-Saharan Africa to interrogate the extent to which mapping both as a cadastral exercise and emerging practice in the initiation of participatory land governance initiatives, catalyze the transmission of customary land rights in ways that have a positive impact on women's access to land in customary land tenure areas. The results indicate that mapping initiatives generate opportunities, innovations, and novel spaces for securing women's access to land in customary tenure areas which include catalyzing legislative changes and facilitating technology transfer, increasing awareness of women's interests, providing opportunities for women to participate in decision-making forums, providing a basis for securing statutory recognition for their land rights, and improving natural resource stewardship. The potential challenges include the community's capacity to sustain the initiatives, the expense of the technology and software, widespread illiteracy of women, power asymmetries and bias of the mapping experts, increased vulnerability of mapped land to exploitation, the legal status of the maps in the host community and /or country, compatibility with existing land recording systems, statutory bias in recording land rights and the potential of mapping initiatives to unearth existing land boundary conflicts. These challenges can be mediated by sensitive planning and management to ensure real and sustainable land tenure security for women. The paper contributes to debates around customary land tenure dynamics, specifically the issues pertaining to registration of primary and derived customary rights to land. These includes policy debates and choices to be made about how best to secure tenuous customary land rights of women and other vulnerable people. The paper also contributes to our understanding of what instruments in land registration toolkits might strengthen women's land rights and the conditions under which this could be done.

Original languageEnglish
Article number344
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2020


  • Customary
  • Land
  • Mapping
  • Sub-Saharan Africa
  • Tenure
  • Women

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Ecology
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation


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