Lessons Learned: Integrating Gender Equality and Social Inclusion into Customary Land Documentation in Malawi

As land is a critical asset for rural men and women, securing land tenure through documentation can reduce conflict and vulnerability to property grabbing, while creating incentives for households to make long-term investments in their land. In Malawi, 70 percent of the population lives on customary land that is held by communities and administered by traditional leaders. Less than 10 percent of people have any form of land documentation, and these rates are worse for women and other marginalized groups.

The Government of Malawi enacted a series of land laws in 2016, including the Customary Land Act that allows customary land holders to formalize ownership by registering their parcels. Building on this new legal framework, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Integrated Land and Resource Governance (ILRG) program partnered with the Government of Malawi to register all customary land within a traditional land management area (TLMA). The program applied a strong gender equality and social inclusion (GESI) lens to ensure that women, youth, the elderly, people with disabilities, and other marginalized groups were included throughout the process. This initiative provides lessons for scaling the government-led customary land registration process across the country in the coming years.

This brief shares the following ten lessons from this two-year partnership, highlighting the main activities undertaken to integrate GESI into the customary land documentation process, initial results, and challenges:

  1. Allow sufficient time for planning and preparation to select intervention areas, align expectations, and resolve broader land boundary issues.
  2. Carry out a robust gender analysis to inform GESI-specific activities and GESI integration in the land registration process.
  3. Invest in enumerators/data collectors, as they are the frontline for GESI integration.
  4. Implement GESI capacity strengthening for all stakeholders involved in the land registration process to increase understanding and buy-in.
  5. Ensure GESI content is part of initial community outreach on land rights, with continued sensitization throughout the documentation process.
  6. Gender quotas are important, but women need additional support to meaningfully participate in land governance.
  7. Invest in traditional leaders as key agents of change to promote GESI in customary land registration and governance.
  8. Focus on shifting harmful gender norms at the household and community levels.
  9. Build support and resources for gender-responsive land dispute resolution.
  10. Create space for long-term change; though GESI integration generates positive results, there is persistent resistance to registering land in the name of women in patrilocal marriage systems.

Data and insights on challenges and lessons learned come from two local learning events (midline and endline), as well as interviews and focus group discussions with key stakeholders. A survey with community members provided quantitative data that was compared to baseline data from the initial gender assessment.