Women's land rights, gendered epistemic tensions, and the need for a feminist approach to land administration

Serene Ho, Maria Tanyag, Elisa Scalise

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    Women's land rights (WLRs) are now firmly established in global human rights and development agendas, including in land reforms which are mainstreaming gender equality as part of project design and outcomes. Despite this, the evidence on the effectiveness of land administration and titling interventions for securing WLRs is sometimes problematic. This article critically analyses the gendered processes in land administration knowledge production with a focus on the cadastre as the source of its epistemic foundations. The aim is to make visible and interrogate epistemological and methodological assumptions informing land administration, which to date, remains limited. A feminist method supports the critique of the cadastre as a political technology that has been instrumentalised for colonialism and neoliberalism, reducing socially and politically complex tenure systems to a simplistic ownership-based framework for efficient legal administration. These erasures have served to disembody and de-legitimise WLRs information. The analysis also highlights how the ‘maleness’ of the land administration profession is problematic: masculinised cadastral regimes undermine the performance of land administration as a practice and field of expertise that aims to have women as beneficiaries by perpetuating the distribution and durability of gendered behaviours. Importantly, the paper's findings echo other feminist scholarship that shows how a focus on ‘tech fixes’ for achieving gender equality focuses on counting about women and not counting for women. As land administration becomes more reliant on digital technologies and ICTs, foundational epistemic biases built into cadastral regimes may negate efforts at promoting broader participation in land administration and may even unintentionally generate adverse consequences for women and other marginalised groups. The paper concludes by arguing the urgent need to re-articulate what is feminist about feminist land administration and offers three starting propositions for addressing the gap between formalising gender equality goals through land administration and for engaging directly with the complexity of gender and land relations. We invite readers to engage with these propositions in their practices to contend with the task of specifying and implementing feminist land administration.
    Original languageEnglish
    JournalLand Use Policy
    Publication statusPublished - 2023

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