Intimate Partner Violence and Land Tenure


The US Government is committed to preventing and responding to gender-based violence (GBV). This commitment is articulated in policies, laws, and other guidance documents. For USAID, addressing GBV is one of the three pillars of the Gender Equality and Female Empowerment Policy (2012). By preventing and responding to GBV, USAID can help protect the human rights of women, girls, and other vulnerable people and guard against physical, psychological, and economic harms. By addressing GBV, the US Government also helps promote individual and community resilience and increase the ability of women, men, and their communities to live safe and productive lives.

Development programming can be an important force in combating GBV and a subset of GBV, Intimate Partner Violence (IPV). Some programming focuses on supporting legal and policy changes to make certain forms of GBV illegal or train law enforcement officials to recognize and respond to GBV. In other cases, programming focuses on empowering women economically as a possible pathway to prevent GBV or IPV. For example, helping women to acquire and leverage a secure asset base, including land and other property, can increase women’s status within households, enhance their decision-making powers and, in turn, reduce GBV or IPV and improve educational and health outcomes for women themselves and their children. In addition, women who hold secure rights to land and property may be better able to take advantage of livelihood opportunities, build or grow businesses, and contribute to economic growth and sustained development.

This report reviews existing literature to explore how, in some contexts, holding and controlling land and property rights can potentially empower women and reduce the likelihood of IPV particularly. Across the literature the incidence of IPV is high: 20 to 65 percent of respondents in these studies report IPV, with most of the studies reporting over 50 percent incidence of IPV. Some research, much of it from South Asia, suggests that empowering women with rights to land and property may help to prevent or mitigate harms from IPV, while other research reaches a more ambiguous or even contradictory conclusion. The evidence base for land tenure and property rights interventions as a pathway to preventing IPV directed at women is mixed. Research strongly suggests that the incidence or experience of IPV is highly context specific. Other factors, including prevailing social norms and support networks, the use or misuse of alcohol and drugs, socio-economic conditions, and childhood experiences may play important roles in determining if a woman experiences IPV.

Given the mixed state of the literature, the report recommends developing a sound understanding of local conditions before designing and implementing land tenure interventions to avoid creating situations that inadvertently harm women and their families. While land programming can be transformative and contribute to women’s economic and social empowerment, under some conditions activities may generate resentment and backlash and lead to harm.

The following recommendations are designed to help prevent or mitigate IPV in land tenure and property rights programming:

Higher level recommendations:

Develop and execute a robust research agenda that seeks to establish an evidence base for the impacts of land tenure and property rights interventions on IPV for women. Key questions to address include:

  • Which assets (physical, financial, and social) in what combination work well to prevent or reduce IPV?
  • Under what conditions does joint titling of property help to prevent to reduce IPV? Under what conditions, if any, might joint titling of property increase women’s risk for IPV?
  • What kinds of interventions work best to enhance women’s control and decision-making authority over land and property and do these interventions (alone and in combination) work to prevent or reduce IPV?
  • What interventions work best to shift men’s attitudes towards and use of IPV in response to women’s exercise of land and property rights?
  • Is secure homeownership a positive strategy for preventing or reducing IPV and under what social/economic conditions does it work best?
  • What is the association between the relative property wealth within a couple and the likelihood of IPV?
  • What property rights and land interventions work best to prevent or reduce IPV for younger women? For wives in polygamous marriages? For older women?

Program-level recommendations:

When initially conceptualizing a land tenure or property rights intervention:

  • Use a participatory approach to identify the specific factors that contribute to IPV in the proposed location and determine how pervasive these factors are. This may include participatory mapping exercises that identify stakeholders who may be affected by project activities to understand who supports and opposes women’s exercise of rights to own and control land and property and for what reasons.
  • If increasing women’s ownership of or control over land and property may increase the risk of IPV, work with a GBV specialist and the intended beneficiaries to identify risk mitigation strategies to increase the capabilities of women and men to negotiate asset control and decision making, mediate conflict over asset ownership or control that may lead to IPV, and hold those who perpetrate IPV accountable for harms. Ensure strategies provide feedback to enable learning and to allow for adjustments.

When designing a land tenure or property rights intervention consider the following:

If the project will operate in an environment that is only moderately supportive of gender equality or that is highly unsupportive of gender equality consider the following:

  • Include a GBV risk assessment (including IPV) or GBV safety audit to identify risk factors, community characteristics, kinds of support and safety services available to address GBV and IPV, local governance structures, and how rules and norms are enforced and against whom.
  • Identify and work with traditional authorities and religious leaders who can serve as advocates for women’s peaceful and safe exercise of their land and property rights and who can serve as role models and mentors to other men and boys.
  • Identify and work with women who can serve as advocates for women’s peaceful and safe exercise of their land and property rights and build skills to participate in traditional and formal land governance institutions.
  • Work with law enforcement officials to change attitudes and to improve enforcement of laws against GBV and IPV in cases where women exercise their land and property rights and face backlash and violence as a result.
  • Include a behavior change component to influence the attitudes and practices of women and men around women’s land and property rights and IPV and build awareness of strategies to reduce acceptance of, and toleration for, IPV related to the use and control of land. Create spaces for discussion and dialogue that are accessible, safe, and comfortable for both women and men.
  • Consider supporting access to confidential and accessible support services for women who face GBV or IPV because they participate in land and property rights programming. This may include health care (including mental health care), mediation, or para-legal services.