Gender Justice Movement Around Women’s Land Access in Côte d’Ivoire Begins with Household Dialogue

ILAW Y2Q1 success story cover imageImproving women’s access to land is a complex process of lifting barriers and changing deeply held social and cultural norms. Knowing more about one’s rights under the law helps, but at the end of the day whether women gain more access or not depends on thousands of individual decisions taken in countless households.

That is why the Gender Action Learning System (GALS) is so powerful – it offers a series of visual participatory tools for women and men to map out how to reach their objectives, all while focusing on how better communication and collaboration in their homes can make all the difference.

“At the beginning I was thinking that the drawings we did were child’s play but when we started the second day of training, I realized it was serious,” said Silue Koinan from Kohokaha in northern Côte d’Ivoire. “I realized through the exercises that I am the one who controls all property in my family, and that there was no reason not to involve my wife in the management and decision-making.”

Thanks to trainings by the USAID Improving Land Access for Women (ILAW) project, implemented in Western and Northern regions of Côte d’Ivoire from 2021 to 2024, hundreds of community leaders have learned these tools and started to change their lives.

Government Officials Who Manage Land Conflicts Pledge Greater Gender Sensitivity

ILAW Y1Q4 success story cover image“To deprive women of the land is to deprive Côte d’Ivoire of food.” This was one of the arguments advanced by the Director of Rural Land Tenure of the Ministry of Agriculture, during the two 3-days gender sensitivity training sessions targeting government officials involved in land management and regional directors of the Ministry of Women, Families, and Children (MFFE).

Most of the participants – ranging from territorial administrators and court officials to regional directors – were convinced of this statement by the end of the 3-days gender sensitivity trainings conducted for 52 officials in Yamoussoukro from September 13-15 and 20-23, 2022. The trainings were organized by the USAID Improving Land Access for Women (ILAW) project, implemented in Western and Northern regions of Côte d’Ivoire from 2021 to 2024.

“The quality of the presentations, the quality of the trainers and the relevance of the themes have enabled us to see the gender issue from another angle,” said the sub-prefect from Guehibly. “Before, we heard about gender, but we often thought it was just about the number of women in meetings. Now we understand that gender is a development approach that is about social inclusion.”

During the training sessions, participants shared cases from their day-to-day work. These included women who were excluded from inheritance by their brothers, widows who lost access to plantations following their husbands’ deaths, and women involved in village disputes that led to women losing access to lowland areas generally devoted to food crops production.

How One Man’s Changing Perspective on Gender Resolved a Family Dispute Over Land

ILAW-Y3Q1-success-story cover imageChanging long-held beliefs and traditions around gender and land can be challenging, but using a community-based approach, families and communities in Côte d’Ivoire are already experiencing tangible changes in women’s access to land.

Mr. DOUÉ Michaël had never questioned the traditional attitudes around women’s land rights—and gender roles more broadly—that were prevalent in his community in Western Côte d’Ivoire. “Before, I thought that only men could inherit from their parents,” he shared. “I considered men to be superior to women.”

Thus, when their father died, Michaël and his sister, Lydie, faced a dispute: Michaël espoused the belief that he and his brothers were the sole heirs to their father’s property. But this didn’t sit well with Lydie, who wanted full land rights and recognition of her value as a member of the family.

It wasn’t until attending a training provided by USAID’s Improving Land Access for Women (ILAW) project that Michaël began to see the other side of the issue. Through the training, he heard his sister recount in a video how her inability to access the family land caused her economic and emotional hardship. Michael also learned about the benefits of sharing property with female family members, who are often in charge of household expenses.

With this new perspective, Michaël consulted with his brothers and decided to give Lydie a portion of the family land. The decision not only gave Lydie greater means for survival, but it also strengthened their relationship.

Dynamic Agricultural Groups Help Improve Women’s Land Success

ILAW Y2Q4 success story cover image“Things are changing,” said a young man from Litiangolo, northern Côte d’Ivoire, during a recent social dialogue session on women’s participation in land-based decision-making.

“The women who negotiated their new agricultural site, they did so directly with the chief,” he explained. “Before they would have had to find a man intermediary to advocate for them. But I think it’s better that they can negotiate directly.”

Indeed, women’s agricultural groups supported by the USAID Improving Land Access for Women (ILAW) in northern and western Côte d’Ivoire are key to helping reduce land inequality and discrimination.

The project’s baseline political economy analysis found that restrictive social norms made it difficult for women to speak up for their land rights. However, when organized as agricultural groups—that produce food for the benefit of the whole community—they feel “safety in numbers” and are viewed more positively by male community leaders.

USAID ILAW has been supporting women’s agricultural groups to develop vision maps using the Gender Action Learning System (GALS) that include specific objectives related to land. Combined with other communication activities, many groups are now successfully negotiating more land.

When Land Transitions from Rural to Urban, Women Can Benefit

ILAW Y2Q3 success story cover imageUrbanization can threaten women’s land access by swallowing up their farmland, pricing them out due to speculation and generating conflict.

This was among the conclusions from the baseline Political Economy Assessment (PEA) conducted by the USAID Improving Land Access for Women (ILAW) project in 2021.

But two years later, ILAW is seeing new opportunities for women to access urban land thanks to the project’s focus on changing social norms among customary and government land administrators in both urban and peri-urban contexts.

Following gender sensitivity trainings and over 200 social dialogue sessions, many of these leaders are actively lifting structural barriers and seizing opportunities for women to become landowners.

At a recent forum organized by ILAW, regional directors of urban land described how they convince landowning families to reserve plots for women during the creation of new urban subdivisions.

Social Dialogue on Land and Gender Helps Change Social Norms

ILAW Y2Q2 success story cover imageThe USAID Improving Land Access for Women (ILAW) project, implemented in Western and Northern regions of Côte d’Ivoire from 2021 to 2024, has organized over 200 social dialogue sessions in 30 communities on land, gender and inheritance.

The sessions are organized around five short films full of diverse and sometimes opposing perspectives from community members.

Participants often laugh at seeing people they know, and they appreciate that the films reflect their lived experience.

Above all, they appreciate the chance to discuss these issues, and the simple act of discussion catalyzes change.