This brief draws from USAID’s experience supporting systematic land documentation in Zambia to further advance awareness and knowledge about the relationship between gender-based violence (GBV) and the access, use, and control of land and property. It aims to inform current and future design and implementation of programs that promote land-based investment and land rights (particularly women’s land rights) by civil society organizations, other donors, and the private sector.
Gender-based violence (GBV) is any harm or potential of harm perpetrated against a person or group on the basis of gender. It encompasses many expressions of violence – whether in public or private spaces – including physical, psychological, and sexual abuse; threats; coercion; arbitrary deprivation of liberty; and economic deprivation of land, property, and other resources. USAID is committed to preventing and responding to GBV, as it is a major barrier to development outcomes and to women’s social and economic empowerment.
The relationship between GBV and access, use, and control of land and property is highly context specific, depending on specific land systems that exist in each country, the legal framework on land and gender, and wider levels of gender inequality. Most of the literature and evidence available on the connection between GBV and land focuses on intimate partner violence (IPV) as a subset of GBV, with some studies finding that secure land rights increase women’s agency and socioeconomic status within families, which in turn decrease their vulnerability to IPV and enhance their ability to leave violent relationships. On the other hand, some studies found that strengthening women’s land rights can instead increase conflict within households and result in IPV (see Boudreaux, 2018 and Castañeda Camey et al., 2020).
Although IPV is extremely relevant and pervasive, GBV during documentation, registration, and administration of land is broader, following the complexity of local land tenure systems, societal gender norms, and family relationships. Denying or limiting access to land is in itself a form of socioeconomic GBV and a World Bank study found that 40 percent of 189 countries have at least one legal barrier to women’s rights to property (World Bank Group, 2018). Even in contexts where women and men enjoy equal legal rights to land, social practices and harmful gender norms may prevent women from enjoying such rights. However, limiting women’s access to land is rarely recognized as a form of violence, with a 2015 survey by the Overseas Development Institute and Frontiers Group finding that only 1 percent and 1.7 percent of respondents identified denial of right to own land and denial of inheritance as forms of GBV, respectively (Samuels et al., 2015).
GBV is widespread in Zambia and affects women and girls disproportionately, with the 2018 Zambia Demographic and Health Survey reporting that 36 percent of Zambian women have experienced physical violence at least once since the age of 15 and 32 percent of ever-married women have experienced controlling behaviors by their husbands. More than half (52 percent) of women never sought help or told anyone about the violence they had experienced (Zambia Statistics Agency, Ministry of Health, & ICF, 2019). Despite the adoption of the Anti-Gender-Based Violence Law in 2011, GBV remains pervasive, deeply rooted in wider gender inequality and highly tolerated, especially in rural areas. In fact, Zambian women in rural areas (54 percent) are more likely than those in urban areas (37 percent) to agree that a husband is justified in hitting or beating his wife for reasons such as burning food, going out without telling him, or refusing to have sexual intercourse. Almost half (47 percent) of widowed women were dispossessed of their husband’s property, with this figure reaching 59 percent in rural areas (Zambia Statistics Agency et al., 2019).
Zambia has a dual land tenure system with statutory and customary land, which is the majority of land in the country. Access to and inheritance of customary land is governed by the customary system. Chiefs are the “custodians” of customary land on behalf of communities, and they are responsible for its allocation and administration. Local advisors to the chiefs (indunas) and village headpersons are responsible for day-to-day land administration and conflict resolution. These leaders have a high degree of influence on community norms, as they are responsible for adjudicating most social and cultural conflicts within customary land, including inheritance and community and household-level conflict.
Key Themes and Lessons from USAID’s Experience
USAID has supported customary land documentation in Zambia since 2014 and has supported partners to document the land rights of over 50,000 people so far, out of which 47 percent are women. USAID uses a socially inclusive technology known as Mobile Approaches to Secure Tenure (MAST) and promotes gender integration throughout the land documentation process to ensure that women’s land rights are registered and interests and priorities are addressed.
Over 2019 and 2020, USAID’s Integrated Land and Resource Governance program (ILRG) local partners Chipata District Land Alliance (CDLA) and Petauke District Land Alliance (PDLA) have collected qualitative data and stories while documenting customary land. This brief draws on this information to identify and analyze key themes and emerging lessons from USAID’s experience in systematic land documentation in Zambia. Although the stories evidence the themes identified, they are not necessarily a comprehensive representation of GBV related to land documentation in Zambia. Individuals mentioned in the brief have given consent to have their stories shared and their names and other potentially identifying information have been changed for their privacy and safety. The photographs used do not depict any of the women or specific events described in the document.