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News & Events How do we know transformative changes are taking place in women’s land rights?
How do we know transformative changes are taking place in women’s land rights?
How do we know transformative changes are taking place in women’s land rights?


The Land Portal and Both Ends are co-hosting a webinar, “Showcasing transformative approaches for women’s land rights,” that explores new approaches for women’s land rights. 

In preparation for the webinar, we asked ourselves, what is a gender transformative approach and how do we know that transformative changes are taking place in women’s land rights?

Clarity about two issues is necessary: first, what sex-disaggregated data exist in the land sector, as the basis to monitor change, and second, how development approaches to secure women’s land rights and overcome gender inequalities have evolved - or why a new approach has become necessary.

With this in mind, we did a research scan which sought to:

  • Provide a quick overview on the state of gender and land data;   

  • Review the concept of gender transformative change to clarify its meaning and application, and identify when the development community started to use it and why 

A timeline of gender and land data 

One of the 52 minimum set of gender indicators approved by the UN statistical commission is the proportion of the adult population owning land by sex. More recently the problem of definition has been highlighted, noting that “there is little consensus on what is meant by women’s land rights” which are often “conflated with formal land ownership”[1]. In fact, an overall methodological problem has accompanied many data initiatives that have emerged over time and tried to capture the gender dimension of land issues. Below is a chronology of the main initiatives, their results and challenges.

2000 - agricultural censuses include sex disaggregated indicators
From 2000 the FAO statistics division began encouraging countries which were undertaking an agricultural census to report on key sex disaggregated indicators. 

2010-2015 - a database and framework emerge
FAO established an online gender and land rights database (GLRD) in February 2010. In 2014 FAO together with IFPRI-PIM set out to develop a common framework for sex disaggregated indicators for the GLRD. These indicators relate primarily to rural agricultural land. The FAO drew on data derived from national statistics offices which conduct agricultural censuses every 10 years or household surveys. 

As of May 2015, the distribution of agricultural holders by sex (a measure of management of land holdings as opposed to ownership) was available for 104 countries. Much of this data, particularly that from sub-Saharan Africa was acknowledged to be outdated. In some countries the data sources can date back 20 years. Indicator 2, which set out to measure the relative share of female and male agricultural landowners within the total population of land-owners, was problematic, in that the agricultural land owner was defined as the legal owner of the agricultural land, thereby excluding land under customary tenure which remains unregistered. Data to measure this indicator was derived from large-scale household surveys. However, by 2015 indicator 2 had only been calculated for 11 countries in the GLRD database, while data on indicators one and two was only available for six countries – and not for the same years. While gender inequalities feature in numerous studies[2], the stats cited in different reports appear inconsistent. 

FAO noted in 2015 “that despite there being a global consensus on the importance of women’s land rights for the realisation of food security, accurate and reliable statistics to monitor the attainment and realisation of these rights were still lacking”[3].

2015-2017 - Women’s land rights become part of the SDGs
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) drafted in 2015 advocate that to advance women’s land and property rights, nations need to “undertake reforms to give women equal rights to economic resources, as well as access to ownership and control over land and other forms of property, financial services, inheritance and natural resources, in accordance with national laws. (Goal 5a). 

The wording of this goal has been critiqued for its vagueness and reveals that securing equal rights for women remains contested in many national settings.

In 2017 the UN passed a resolution to identify specific targets and indicators for each goal.

  • Indicator 5.A.1: (a) Proportion of total agricultural population with ownership or secure rights over agricultural land, by sex; and (b) share of women among owners or rights-bearers of agricultural land, by type of tenure.

  • Indicator 5.A.2: Proportion of countries where the legal framework (including customary law) guarantees women’s equal rights to land ownership and/or control.

2018 - Less than 15% of all landholders are women
By 2018 analysts in the gender and evaluation community stated that “the chances are slim that SDG indicators on access, ownership and control over agricultural land can be achieved”[4].

In the same year FAO published a brief on the gender gap in land rights which found that “regardless of the type of indicator used, evidence shows that women are significantly disadvantaged relative to men with regard to their land rights… Globally, less than 15 % of all landholders are women”[5].

Figure 1: Distribution of agricultural landholders by sex, global and regional averages. Source: FAO 2018.


This gender gap analysis highlights important distinctions between landholders, landowners, the right to manage land and the right to transfer land. It illustrates the need for sex-disaggregated data including rights to transfer land through sale, bequest and rental, coupled with land management and economic rights over land. 

Numerous initiatives have since been developed to improve survey design and methodology to improve the reliability of gender disaggregated data[6]. 

2019 - An overreliance on household survey data omits women
In 2019 Open Data Watch, and Data2X and partners published a study on gender data availability in 15 African countries. This found that sex-disaggregated data were only available for 52% of gender relevant indicators, including those identified under the SDG. This study identified a range of constraints, including an overreliance on household survey data for administrative data collection and analysis. The report noted that much of the household survey-based data could not be sex disaggregated as much of it had been collected by interviewing the household head, who in many instances was a man. The availability of survey data has been further constrained by the Covid 19 pandemic which put a lot of survey research on hold[7]. A global data network (GTN) was established in 2019 to raise the standard of gender data production with a focus on Africa.

2021 - A toolkit and new technologies for gender-sensitive statistics
In 2021, GDN partner organization UN Women released a Counted and Visible Toolkit as a reference guide for how to produce disaggregated gender statistics. The focus of this toolkit was on education but there are elements which could be adapted for land related issues. There has been an increasing focus on the use of computer assisted personal interview survey technologies as data capture tools.

Gender transformative approaches

Back in the 1970’s, development programmes promoted by the UN utilised the Women in Development (WID) framework. This sought to “integrate women into the development process”. Its focus was exclusively on women. The Gender and Development (GAD) framework which dominated from the 1980’s sought to examine “linkages between economic, social and political forces and the ways in which they shaped relations between men and women”[8]. 

However, over time as GAD became the basis for ‘gender mainstreaming’, the approach was soon criticised for degenerating into a tick box exercise which frequently ignored how inequalities are structurally embedded in societies across the globe[9]. Broadly speaking GAD has been seen “to work around gender constraints to build women’s assets and agency”[10]. This risks reinforcing individual and instrumental approaches to ‘development’. By contrast “gender transformative approaches seek to transform structural barriers, in particular constraining norms” [11]. Some agencies like the CGIAR have been focusing on gender transformative approaches since 2012 and seek to tackle the root causes of gender inequalities. Still, the concept of ‘development’ has remained largely underexplored across gender frameworks.    

The success of gender transformative approaches remains difficult to assess. Currently concerns have been expressed that there remains a “gap in empirical evidence regarding outcomes from gender transformative approaches compared to gender accommodative approaches”[12]. 

There is a burgeoning literature on gender transformative approaches across diverse settings. A Google scholar search returns over 17000 results for “gender transformative approaches to development”. Securing genuine gender transformative approaches with respect to land and natural resource rights remains hugely challenging, due to the multiple contestations required to address systemic inequalities and change societal value systems.

Rick de Satge contributed to the research for this article. 

Photo Credit: UN Women/Karim Selmaoui 




[1] Slavchevska, V., C. R. Doss, A. P. de la O Campos and C. Brunelli (2021). "Beyond ownership: women’s and men’s land rights in Sub-Saharan Africa." Oxford Development Studies 49(1): 2-22.

[2] SIDA (2015). Women and land rights. Gender toolbox.

[3] De La O Campos, A. P., N. Warring and C. Brunelli (2015). Gender and Land Statistics:  Recent developments in FAO’s  Gender and Land Rights Database, FAO.

[4] Murthy, R., K (2018). "SDG Target 5a: Challenges to achieving gender equality on access, ownership, and control over land!" Gender and evaluation community 2022.

[5] FAO (2018). The gender gap in land rights, Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations.

[6] UN Department of Social and Economic Affairs (2019). Guidelines for Producing Statistics on Asset Ownership from a Gender Perspective. Studies in methods, Hasanbasri, A., T. Kilic, G. Koolwal and H. Moylan (2021). LSMS+ Program: Overview and recommendations for improving individual-disaggregated data on asset ownership and labor outcomes. Washington DC, The World Bank.

[7] Espey, J. (2022). Advancing gender data and statistics in Africa. A report for the Gender Data network, UN Economic Commission for Africa.

[8] de Satgé, R., A. Holloway, D. Mullins, L. Nchabaleng and P. Ward (2002). Learning about livelihoods: Insights from southern Africa. Cape Town, Periperi Publications and Oxfam Publishing.

[9] Bradshaw, S., K. Chmutina, J. Field, M. Fordham, V. Le Masson, H. Ruszczyk and O. Walmsle (2022). "Gender in DRR - Mainstreamed into invisibility." RADIX: Radic

[10] Pyburn, R. and A. van Eerdewijk (2021). Advancing gender equality through agricultural and environmental research: Past, present, and future, Intl Food Policy Res Inst.

[11] Ibid

[12] Ibid


Related content:


Showcasing transformative approaches for women’s land rights

22 September 2022

This third Whose Land? webinar showcased gender transformative approaches on women’s land rights. Gender transformative approaches are defined by women acting as agents of change, transforming structural barriers and redefining gender norms. These approaches facilitate the participation of women in land governance decision-making processes, but require closing the land data gender gap. 

Land Portal Foundation