Prize for research on agrarian rights

Prize for research on agrarian rights

The Centre for Women's Studies and Gender Research at the University of Oslo annually awards a prize for outstanding women's studies and gender research. In 2002 Ingunn Ikdahl won the prize for her master's thesis on women farmer's rights to land in Tanzania. Ikdahl's work has already impressed professionals, both nationally and internationally.

Ingunn Ikdahl. Photo: Heidi Sandnes

The jury emphasises that Ikdahl’s thesis: ” …. is literally about life and death for many, many women and children on our globe - female farmer’s rights to the use of agricultural land”.

Ikdahl’s thesis has been part of the research project “Foreign-aid-relevant women’s law”, which studies how women are influenced by legal, social and economic development processes. The actual development process Ikdahl’s work is based on is two new laws which have later been called the new land-reform in Tanzania.

- The change in the regulations is based on a desire to open a market for agricultural land. The consequence of the transition from family-run to market-based regulating of this area is often that it is the men who end up having the formal rights to the land. The consequences of this can be extensive for the female farmers’ livelihood, Ikdahl claims.

It is especially the rights of married rural women that Ikdahl has focussed on. - The women’s tenure of land has its basis in marriage. According to the new land-reform it is the men who are written down as having the land rights. This weakens the claims based on established custom and informal tenure rights that the women have had earlier.

In a so-called kin-regulated system married women have been protected by the farmland given them by their husband’s family to cultivate. “The care-principle” has been crucial for the women’s situation.

- When the situation has changed now, with the establishment of a market for the sale of agricultural land, the family can suffer an economic loss by giving the land away to the women. Because of this there is a concern that the husbands will sell the farmland and move to the cities, leaving their wives in the village with no land or livelihood.

In her thesis Ikdahl chooses to apply the principles of human rights and the ensuing land-ownership protection to illustrate the women’s rights to the use of farmland.

- Earlier human rights have also had the formal land-owner in mind. Lately focus has shifted from merely protecting legal land-ownership, to also expecting the state to protect tenure-rights. To an increasing extent there is consciousness about the right to a decent standard of living and “the non-discrimination-principle” when surveying what is encompassed by the property rights protection aspect of human rights. This development within the protection of human rights will have an important influence on the female farmer’s rights to land tenure, Ikdahl thinks.

Women represent about half of Tanzania’s population, and have, as do men, different life-careers, interests and needs. When Ikdahl met with the various women’s organisations, the differences between different groups of women were made especially clear by the urban women’s “non-focus” on the poor rural women’s life conditions. Ikdahl concludes by underlining the fact that it must be the different women’s lives and their differing practical and concrete situations which must be focussed on to ensure the development of human rights in areas needing new rules and regulations.

Ikdahl is ready to continue her work on women’s land-rights, tenure rights and common law, if the possibility presents itself.

It would be interesting to study what position married women have after the land-reform in South Africa, the prize winner concludes.