Women Inheriting Land: Rights and Realities | Land Portal

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Landesa partners with governments and local organizations to ensure that the world’s poorest families have secure rights over the land they till. Founded as the Rural Development Institute, Landesa has helped more than 105 million poor families gain legal control over their land since 1967. When families have secure rights to land, they can invest in their land to sustainably increase their harvests and reap the benefits—improved nutrition, health, and education—for generations.


Ms. Shipra Deo, Director, Women Land Rights, Landesa – India

It is my pleasure to welcome you to this timely and important webinar on Women Inheriting Land: Rights and Realities, which is co-organized by Landesa and the Working Group for Women and Land Ownership (WGWLO) with support from  the NRMC Center for Land Governance and the Land Portal Foundation.  It is my honor to moderate this discussion. 

Ownership and control over land is essential to ensuring gender equality and improve the quality of lives of not only women, but also of their families and communities. Despite a hoard of international and national commitments, ownership of land continues to be an area with appalling disparities between men and women. An overlapping web of legal, structural, socioeconomic, and cultural factors prevent women from realising their right to inherit land. 
At the first place, the inheritance laws, policies, and regulations overtly discriminate against women and are gravely insufficient to ensure them an equal right to inheritance. The plurality of laws and the huge ambiguities further undo the progressive moves of the law. Even when the laws entitle equal rights to women, the social norms and institutions pose constrain for women from claiming their inheritance rights.

These complexities and the opportunities therein, lay the context of today’s webinar.

Allow me to introduce our esteemed panelists who come from a wide range of experience:


  • Dr. Govind Kelkar, Senior Advisor -Women, Land and Productive Assets, Landesa -India.


  • Dr. Hema Swaminathan, Associate Professor, Center for Public Policy,  Indian Institute of Management – Bangalore.


  • Ms. Niti Saxena, Activist and Researcher, Uttar Pradesh. She has a lot of experience working on ground especially in Northern India


  • Dr. Varsha Bhagat-Ganguly, Researcher & former Convener, Working Group on Women and Land Ownership (WGWLO),Which is a State level network of 43 NGOs and CBOs.

We will broadly discuss women‘s rights to inherit land in the context of human rights and global commitments, such as the Sustainable Development Goals, legal and policy environment pertaining to inheritance by women in India, socio cultural barriers to inheritance of land by women and good Practices and progress made to ensure women's right to inherit land.

We encourage participants to ask questions. Please use the questions feature to pose questions to the panelists. We will ensure that your questions are addressed in turn during the open discussion that follows. 


Let me open the conversation with some thoughts from Hema Swaminathan. Hema - could you please share your thoughts on Why it matters at all for for women to own land, and why is it important to talk about inheritance in the context?

In terms of why women should own land it's a matter of social justice. Women should have the same opportunities as everybody else to enjoy the fruits that ownership brings along with it. There are a very important stakeholder in all of these processes . There is an instrumentalism argument, that is is not only important for themselves, but for the household and communities, so there are a whole range of positive outcomes that are associated with women’s land ownership. Land can be acquired in various ways - through purchase, govt distribution, through marriage, and through inheritance. Given that land markets are underdeveloped in many developing countries and in rural areas, you don’t really find purchase of land happening. This is coupled with low levels of paid work for women in India, which limits their earnings capacity. Within marriage, there is no concept of marital assets in most of India. We follow a separation of community of property regime that really disadvantages women and completely discounts her contribution to asset building within marriage. Land reforms and land distribution from state governments are important; but in Indian context, inheritance is really a primary way in which women are able to acquire land or stake their ownership claims over land.

In terms of the SDGs, it’s relevant for several goals. In terms of goal 1 for poverty reduction, goal 4 of achieving zero hunger and goal 5 for gender equality and women’s economic empowerment it comes into the SDGs. The SDGs are quite clear in terms of talking about ownership and access  of property and economic resources for women.

Thank you Hema for bringing in the aspects of social justice that makes it necessary to talk about women’s inheritance. Govind. Can you shed some more light on the connection between the sustainable development goals and women’s rights to inherit land?

Thank you Shipra. I was thinking that even before the current scenario of rapid economic growth in India  and in surrounding countries and high gender and other inequalities, and in particular in the rural areas in regard to women not having land rights, either in terms of ownership rights or in terms of management rights. The commitments of the various governments really goes back to CEDAW, even before the Sustainable Development Goals, in 1979. And if you look at the SDGs on poverty reduction, food security and economic empowerment of women and inequality, this is very clear that women and men will have equal rights to land, and only then will poverty reduction be possible. I would also further elaborate in terms of how the various economic programs in the name of empowerment of women have gone into income distribution, income redistribution for women.  Even in terms of planning, not in reality that I would say, but land is a very important asset, and asset distribution is superior to income distribution. This I would like to highlight very much because it helps overcoming distortions in the market, in the labor market, and also in restructuring the relations, which is part of the SDGs and economic empowerment. And how women have been addressing this question of asset ownership rights or land ownership rights. Limited resources are there, so what kind of resources I will briefly point out what needs to be done if we look at the agricultural patterns in India. What do women do and what kind of rights do they have? This is a situation of high gender inequality. There are huge gender differentials. Women have been engaged in building as such, they have been engaged in the labor force. 74% of women are engaged in agriculture. But we don’t have the precise data on how many women own land. Some say it is 2% some say that they have the operational holdings on less than 13%. It is important to remember that the Government of India did change the laws of inheritance rights in 2005 it was amended. I would call this a fog of entitlement because neither it has been monitored nor it has been implemented.  So what happened to this law whether women have claimed the right to land, whether they have not claimed their right to land, there is no data, except for Micro??, there is no data that exists.My own study found that women are claiming rights to land, but at what cost? They have altered relations with their family, and that is their only source of support, and that is a major point which I would like to highlight. The government is not interested, the state has not been interested in the effectiveness of these laws, which is highly required. We are researchers and development workers, and we also need more research in this field to look at how effective this law has been. Someone has done a study of hierana? , and I was very surprised to see how women are claiming these rights. If they are not claiming and are hesitant, what is the reason for their being hesitant? Then the question comes forward about the social norms. What are the social norms and how do they affect , efface or demolish women in terms of claiming these rights?

Major role of women working land in agriculture, yet limited rights to have any secure rights to own and manage land. Not precise data on women’s land ownership in India, Why so? Why land rights matter to women? Why and how women’s access to land and new farm machinery centres (part of asset light economy) needed. Some observations in Bihar.

Thank you Govind, for adding this interesting perspective on the discussion of the SDGs and, some of the international commitments that talk of women’s rights to inherit land. Hema, I come back to you. We see these international commitments around women’s rights, we also have a constitutions that guarantees equality to everyone; and then there are a hoarde of legislations related to inheritance. Whether do you think actually are the barriers to women’s inheritance.

Thank you Shipra. So, building on what  Govind was saying, there is a fog of entitlement there is created but there continue to be both legal and cultural barriers. Legal barriers because we often forget that the HSAA amendment, while it applies to a majority of the population, which is Hindu women, it also does leave out women who are not Hindus. The personal laws which are dictated by religion are not giving women equal inheritance to land. Also, under the HSAA, some of the agricultural practices are still governed at a state level, so there are still some loopholes that can be plugged. There are other issues, like the law is not completely gender equal. If a woman dies and she has no class I heir then her property goes to her in laws first rather than her parents. But the same is not true for men. There are many inconsistencies and this is just one example. There are many inconsistencies that need to be ironed out completely and across all women, not ust Hindu.  In terms of ground realities, there haven’t been too many studies done. There have been a couple of micro studies done by Landesa. Here, I think the problem is that of awareness. While the law has been passed, not everybody still knows about it. It has been since 2005, so we are talking about a good 10+ years. But how much has this really penetrated? How much legal awareness is there? A study that I conducted in Karnataka (a progressive state that had enacted a variation of HSA much before 2005) shows low awareness. And then the cultural part is people are very unwilling because it seems like they are going to be taking away their brothers’ shares. So requesting your own property does come at a very high social cost. Also, there are daughters who don’t want to break up or lose the family support, and then there are wives who do not want to share husbands’ property with their sister-in-laws; maybe they didnt get any from their parental household. And so the cycle of patriarchy continues. How can we break this cycle and change social norms re: women and land or broadly women and property. Thank you Shipra.

Thank you  Hema for bringing in these inconsistencies in several laws and the patriarchal mindsets that play a role in formulation as well as implementation of these laws. And with this I now turn to you - Varsha and Niti ! First to you Varsha -   You have a huge experience working on the ground. We have often hear people saying that women themselves write off their share to brothers and that ‘it will break homes, if daughters start claiming for land’. To what extent do you think is this true? What has been your experience  around these?

Yes, we do hear women saying that. The answer is yes and no, because it is always very complex. It is a reflection of the complex reality which exists. For example, we at WGWLO, have undertaken one study based on the data of 2014-2015, an analysis of the land records based on the village form number 6? It is a study of 34 villages in 7 districts. What we found is that, yes, women are getting entitlement, but at the same time they are giving up entitlement. For example, around 23% of the daughters, who got the entitlement, have written off their title deeds. They released their title deeds. On the other hand,   if you look at other studies in non-tribal areas, then the proportion comes down very low to not more than 2-12% of tribal women are giving up their share. Therefore, it’s a very complex answer, but what I need to sort of support what Govind and Hema are saying is that we also need to understand different manifestations of patriarchy through different ways of patriarchal mindset of having the rights of women getting manifested. The micro and macro reality, for example we need to understand land prices, we need to understand different social classifications in tribal and non tribal areas, we also need to understand the overall development pattern and the extent of land acquisition, and also to be considered that the patriarchal values are very closely intertwined with livelihood and survival concerns,, where land rights are primarily associated with men.  Therefore, the daughter has to think about what am I doing to my brother’s livelihood and their survival and sustenance. Then she is at the in-laws house and it is the husband’s family and the other in-laws. So therefore, we do hear that, but a the same time I would still like to stress upon that women are facing problems from the different corners in very different manners. For example, sometimes she is not even asked, she is not even able to participate in the decision making, the family level decision making, the community level decision making. Sometimes they are not able to understand what are the long term implications of giving up or waiving the land title or giving up their land rights. We really need to understand microdata with a macro reality perspective. This is our experience.

Thank you Varsha for sharing your experince. Niti, Can you also share your perspective and experience of northern States on some of these mindsets we come across and some of these notions which we hear very often?

Thank you Shipra. I”ll just add  to what Varsha was saying and would draw from Prof. Govind and Hema statements. This is a popular perception that women don’t want their share in land or inheritance or they give up their inheritance rights for their brothers which is true to a large extent. Our field experiences show that many women, with their vulnerable situation and positioning within family decide to renunciate their claims, we have met with women who knew about their share in ancestral property but they refused to claim it.not just Hindu women who got their rights secured decade back but also muslim women  For instance We spoke to this woman who was a widow and had been staying in this one small room with children. Her brothers were staying in the same locality, we asked her to initiate some discussion with her brothers about her share in ancestral home as the same would ensure atleast better living space. We assured her of our support, to stand with her but she just refused because of fear of losing support /connect with natal family, which she saw as her backup support system. She was ready to fight it out with her in-laws but not with her brothers. This fear of losing support of the natal family stems from the vulnerable positioning of women, we know how patriarchy operates. Women fear that claiming their share from natal family, might upset or even break their relationship with their brothers and sister-in-laws who otherwise would be there to support them/give them shelter if they have problems with their marital families. To a certain extent women  are quite active in dispossessing their own self. They are motivated by feelings of indebtedness/ gratitude towards natal family that they have spent money in their education, got them married, and they will be there when something happens. They don’t want to break that cord with the natal family. Also in the society apparently women who ask for their share are not seen as `good’ daughters/women – as women they belong to marital families and they should be happy with what they get from their marital family.

Another reason why women dont claim their rights very actively is the violence that is perpetrated on them. We met with women  who faced some kind of violence (physical, emotional,mental), directly and indirectly when they demanded their share in family property or common property. Perpetrators were their own siblings or close family members, in few cases other community members as well. SOcio-cultural sanctioning and acceptance of violence against women makes their struggle even more difficult as they are not left with much support /backup. Value of property also contributes to women’s decision making. For claiming parental property women see that there is so much to lose and not much to gain, so in such situation they prefer to give up their rights - they see this as the most immediate thing to do without looking into the affirmatives that would come with the share of property - ranging from shelter, security to financial security, rights of her children etc.

Having said that, we also have number of women who have successfully claimed their property rights. Not all of women succumb to violence, some fight  back by changing their strategies for negotiation, bargaining or reaching out to support group/system.

Here her own agency and resilience are the key drivers - her educational status, awareness level, age, interpersonal skills are ofcourse the contributory factors. Support mechanism at local level - whether institutional, community based groups/SHGs, peer support, support from family members  also play a crucial role in motivating her in this direction. I wish to highlight that we really need to focus on the group of single women, could be the destitute, deserted, divorced. They are the most vulnerable group among all the women. The social pressures and norms are working in a more intensified manner for single women.

Thank you Niti for talking about this web of limitations in claiming rights by women and their power to assert at  the same time. Govind, I come back to you. Can you shed some light on the sites for such significant gaps between the constitutional guarantee of equality to women and the real life marginalisation in inheriting land?

Lack information and Poor awareness level amongst women and men is a major lacuna and it is not only about women’s share or her right to inheritance,  but also about land related legal provisions and administrative processes which are complex and cumbersome. Poor maintenance of documentation, land records also pose challenges for women.

Culturally women not seen as the land owners/holders. This leads to state’s apathetic attitude and complicity in denial of land rights/entitlement to women, particularly in North Indian (Hindi) belt which is extremely patriarchal in nature.   There are assumptions that women would not be interested in land matters and if they are claiming then there is also a presumption  that they are being coerced by some other interested party with vested reasons. So such assumptions coupled with patriarchal approach amonsgt state functionaries in certain areas at local level lead to weak administrative will and lack of political will that impinge upon women’s land rights..


We also know that women have very limited livelihood options and economic opportunities which also adds to their vulnerabilities  and perpetuates denial of rights.

Though National Land records Management Programme is being implemented across country to integrate land records and other documents under single information system, but the results are varying in different parts of the country. In states like UP and Bihar there are still issues related to digitization of records, land surveys, integration   of land titles, mutations processes are also disputed.

State where I come from, Uttar Pradesh, is known for land grabbing, illegal possession on common land by the powerful and influential ones. Possession over land is seen as one of the key power markers .In such a socio-political context, claimants who are rom marginalised communities, their voices are muted.  Fighting for land, claiming ones rightful entitlement comes with  heavy economic cost. Negotiations, court cases for settling land disputes go on for years. Both money and time are resources not easily available with women.

Varsha, you have been working with a network of organisation to strengthen women’s land rights. Can you share your experience of the what has worked to bridge this gap between the legal commitment and the ground reality towards  inheritance?

What we have done is focus on four policy areas. The first major are we have focused on is on policy advocacy and policy changes, which is a very broad aspect.  The second strategy that we have adopted is the awareness and sensitisation of government functionaries. The third strategy that we have adopted is sensitizing men towards women’s land rights, and also the participation of other family members and community members and making them role models in such a way that it has some positive spiral effects. The fourth pillar of the strategy is mobilizing local governance and political power structures.

Regarding policy advocacy and changes, sometimes, even if he high level government officials with to be gender sensitive and proactively towards gender equality and other things, sometimes they do not know the knitty gritty about land rights, and so therefore having dialogue with them, influencing them and changing their minds are major initiatives that we have taken as part of policy dialogues and advocacy. Through our dialogue what we do is  we have a list of government notifications and resolutions which talk land rights from a gender perspective. We share these government notifications with the senior government officials like the land commissioner and the secretary of land and revenue and so on, and through that we are able to convey the message and reach out to the lower land revenue machinery. So when it comes from the top it becomes a mandate for the land revenue officials to implement those notifications proactively. That is the kind of policy and advocacy changes that broadly we have been able to undertake. I  just spoke about the reduction in stamp duty and waving off registration fee for exclusive women owning property. This is the result of continuous dialogues with various government officials. Even the executive order that we have talked about, we were able to reach out to more than 5,000 women and making them aware of land rights. This is part of a long term policy dialogue with the senior bureaucrats. This becomes one of the best practices that we feel has a lot of potential.

The second best practice is that the government officials are a very important stakeholder in the entire process of gaining women’s land rights. Therefore what we have done is to raise awareness and sesitize government officials. In order to do this, we provided training with gender-friendly tools. This has been complemented by participation of government officials in public events, celebrations and other such activities.

Another important aspect of this work has been sensitizing men, through community level meetings and participation of men. It is important to recognize the efforts of those men who provide support to women in the family and community. This creates role models, men who then in turn reach out to other villages and communities.

All of this work must be complemented by mobilizing local governance and the political power structure (Panchayati Raj). This includes Sarpanch(Gram Pradhan) and elected representatives of the village panchayat, who are able to expedite a process of women’s land ownership. Secondly, the Gram Sabha, which is a public forum at village level, is where we raise issues of Varsai/ land records entries  in the public domain. Moreover, 16 Sarpanchs raised issues of women farmers, while Varsai entries of more than 300 women were ensured, which resulted in many spiralling effects in 2015. Patwaris also play a crucial role for women’s land ownership. The duties of a Patwari are not only restricted to land records, but also related to administrative and political activities.

Finally, awareness and empowerment of women for ensuring land rights is a crucial element. This includes holding campaigns and awareness raising meetings on regular basis at village level, and participation in gram sabha. Having 33% reservation for women candidates is beneficial in this matter, as women Sarpanchs as well as elected women representatives are sensitive to the issue of women’s land rights. The women who received their titles through varsai (succession) or partition of land become role models for these efforts.

Niti, Can you also share some of the best practices that have worked in the country towards ensuring women’s inheritance.

Some of the networks/organisations’ that I am familiar with and can talk about are primarily Makaam, Ekal Nari Shakti Sangathan, Landesa.

Mahila Kisan Adhikar Manch (Makaam) is a forum of approximately 150 individuals/organisations of women farmers, collectives, academicians, activists working towards recognition and protection of rights of women farmers. Makaam has been actively demanding for women’s right to public and private land and also their rights on Forests and Entitlements for Forest-based Livelihoods. Forum has been doing a lot of public advocacy, research documentation and capacity building on concerning issues.

Ekal Nari Shakti Sangathan is a network of single women which has been working on empowerment of single women and supports women to reclaim their land/property rights as well as on common land.

Landesa is another organisation doing some good work towards strengthening women’s land rights. It is operating in 7 states in India and has been contributing for development of policies/programmes that provide homestead and farmland to the rural landless. The organisation is also working towards reforming law and policies to ensure legal recognition of farm land leasing for the rural poor. Landesa has been using several strategies. They are sensitising state functionaries in West bengal, training revenue officials in UP, WB and Orissa. In UP Landesa is also training elected representatives and is working on raising awareness on the issue with various stakeholders. It is also extending legal aid (in Telangana), which is extremely critical for ensuring land tenure security.

It has been advocating consistently with UP Government and has got some positive results also.  Eg in UP revenue law till 2012 unmarried daughters were  given equal rights as son but the unmarried daughters of pre-deceased son were still not there. The state picked this up as a result of advocacy and recently (just in the last week) the change has been approved also. Though there are other gaps w.r.t. To marital status of daughter but atleast some affirmative step taken by the state government.


There are also groups from Maharashtra, North East which are doing good work in this direction.

Thank you Varsha and Niti ! We do really have before us some of the proven strategies that seem to have worked. Hema, can you talk about some of the monitoring mechanisms that we have to track women's inheritance and land rights at the national level, and where they need to be strengthened?

Some ideas as an academic and researcher:

  • Ensuring women’s names are not struck off the family tree when they get married
  • Designing and standardizing govt. forms so that sex disaggregated data can be collected at all levels and various forums – during registration, or recording details of land / property after a death in the household.
  • Get individual level ownership information and primary mode of acquisition for immoveable property in all NSS surveys that records assets (All India Debt and Investment Surveys). This is macro monitoring mechanism, but can really help to see the big picture

Govind, what do you think can be the additional ways to strengthen monitoring of women’s inheritance?  

Generally, policies are not monitored, with the exceptions of a few such  public works program/ MGNREGA. One effective mechanism of monitoring is that of  the gender and social audit of policy implementation, as an institutional change, carried out by civil  society and women organisations. However such monitoring need to be instituted in the policy making itself, otherwise likely to have a limited effect, except at the time of general  elections.

Thank you Govind, for suggesting some of the things that can be done at the policy level. Hema - In the current contexts where we have before us the examples that have worked, and we also  know of the host of challenges, what are your suggestions to bring about the changes at the policy level and that the question of women’s inheritance get enough attention from the government.

Some possible actions

Better training and gender sensitization at the local panchayat levels – revenue officers and other officials who work with land records, registrations etc

Better training to members of judiciary – they are also embedded in the patriarchy social system and have the same mindset and prejudices.

Working with and sensitizing religious leaders

Design better data recording and collection mechanisms. Ensure that all data collected is sex-disaggregated

More awareness generating among men and women themselves about their rights and duties and what the law says. Several countries in Sub-Saharan Africa ave come up with innovative ways to communicate and work with local communities on land rights (community radios, creating a cadre of para legals)

Thank you Hema for these wonderful suggestions. Varsha, what would be some of your suggestions to bring about changes at the policy level?

  • Gender disaggregated data – initiative by the union government through Digital India and Record Modernisation Programme
  • Implementation of different GRs
  • PRIs trained, motivated, enhancing skilled of land record procedures
  • The National Commission for Women can analyse legal judgments of High Courts and the Supreme Court

Thank you Varsha for sharing your so relevant thoughts. We are approaching the end of the discussion. And Niti, I would also like to know some of your suggestions around the changes in the policy.

  • Gender audit of all laws related to land assignment, ceiling, tenancy as well as inheritance and succession.
  • Some very targetted interventions -
  • State should give priority to women particularly  marginalised women - SC/ST, Muslim and single women in distribution of public land.


  • Policy level measures to be taken to promote research work in this direction
  • There should be more programme and schemes to motivate people to transfer land in women’s name and joint ownership
  • I want to highlight here that intesive Efforts are required at state level as well to address anomalies in the state government’s rules and  provisions. For example Zaminadari Abolition and Land Reforms Acts (ZALR) of various states generally are gender discriminatory in nature . as I understand in many states women don't inherit agricultural land holdings. As we know large part agrarian rural population has property in form on agricultural land only so in such a situation women don’t get anything with devolution of land. So there is critical need to advocate at state level with state governments to address the gaps.
  • No related to directly to policy but it is very critical Inclusion of land rights in various discourses and interventions on women human rights. Establishing the connect between land rights and women right to livelihood, economic security,  their right to live with dignity.

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