Reconciling Indigenous and Women's Rights to Land in Sub-Saharan Africa

39 Pages Posted: 7 Nov 2013 Last revised: 21 Sep 2015

See all articles by Aparna Polavarapu

Aparna Polavarapu

University of South Carolina - School of Law

Date Written: November 5, 2013


In sub-Saharan Africa and globally, battles for rights relating to customary law are common. Indigenous groups throughout the African continent are fighting to maintain access to lands they hold in customary tenure as competition for land increases, while women fight against application of customary laws that deny them rights to attain or control property. Elsewhere around the globe, indigenous groups, particularly those in resource-rich areas, are vulnerable to land grabs from investors and governments. In the in the Americas, Europe, and Asia, indigenous groups face threats to their lands and natural resources. While indigenous rights activists call for government recognition of indigenous land rights and livelihoods, the “women question,” or, how to ensure the protection of indigenous women’s rights, remains an open question. This Article considers how African state governments can legally recognize customary land tenure in a manner that protects indigenous groups while still affording property and other rights to women, and argues that women’s rights and customary law conflict enough such that any legal system that both protects customary tenure and aims to protect women’s rights to land ownership must, at some level, fundamentally alter aspects of customary systems of land ownership. Because of the global nature of these problems, any resolution in sub-Saharan Africa is certain to have implications worldwide.

Keywords: Africa, Indigenous Rights, Women's Rights, Land Laws, Customary Law, Legal Pluralism, International Human Rights

Suggested Citation

Polavarapu, Aparna, Reconciling Indigenous and Women's Rights to Land in Sub-Saharan Africa (November 5, 2013). Georgia Journal of International and Comparative Law, Vol. 42, 2013, Available at SSRN:

Aparna Polavarapu (Contact Author)

University of South Carolina - School of Law ( email )

1525 Senate Street
Columbia, SC 29208
United States

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