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New study highlights gender inequality in African farm ownership

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Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters/File

(Read caption) A farmer inspects his crop at his farm in Senekal, in South Africa's Eastern Free State. A new study highlights gender disparity in African farms ownership.

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A new paper from the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), “Gender Inequalities in Ownership and control of land in Africa," highlights gender-based inequalities in land ownership within African countries. IFPRI provides statistics on a number of land outcomes that may aid key stakeholders engaged in discussions of gender-related land inequalities while also illustrating the importance of measuring land indicators for gendered development in Africa.

IFPRI presents previously unpublished statistics on gender and land in Africa- a review of existing studies to summarize trends in land ownership, access, and control by sex; and a discussion of how to measure gendered land outcomes, the meaning of ownership and control in various contexts, and the importance of considering these factors when developing and studying gender and land statistics.

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Acknowledging that many claims on women’s land ownership in Africa are oversimplified, the researchers still identified a consistent trend of African women owning less land then men, regardless of how land ownership was defined. While African women consistently are disadvantaged in comparison to men across most measures of land ownership and rights, the gender gap varies widely between countries.

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Keeping all these points in mind, IFPRI proposes a number of recommendations to improve policy and research regarding women’s land ownership in Africa.

(1) Land ownership must be clearly defined, as must the indicators and methodology being used when collecting data. This allows for comparisons to be made across studies and for overall patterns to be discerned.

(2) One must pay close attention to the comparison group when assessing gender inequality. Assessments of inequality will differ depending whether women’s land ownership is compared with men’s ownership or joint ownership, for example.

(3) The choice of which measures are collected impacts the evidence of land ownership according to gender, and the policies that are created based on this evidence. Therefore, data and definitions that closely resemble the country context should be used when possible. A focus on both central tendencies and outliers is beneficial in deciding where programs should be targeted.

(4) Individual-level data collection methodology should be standardized and researchers should test whether the identity of the survey respondent may significantly impact the validity of responses from a household.  

(5) Most policies and programs that address land ownership inequalities occur at the country level, so regional and global statistics do not provide the data necessary for the development of policy interventions. Rigorous and specific country-level research and data is necessary for efforts to reduce gender gaps in land ownership inequality.

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“It is clear that global or regional statements putting forth a single statistic for women’s landownership are gross oversimplifications,” IFPRI says. “Without suitable data to confidently produce macro level statistics, it may be better for policymakers and advocates to rely on country-specific data that are more relevant to generating information on the nature of underlying inequities and to producing informed recommendations for government and civil society action.”