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12 Nov 2021

Customary Law, Norms, Practices and Related Factors that Enable and Constrain Women’s Access to Housing, Land and Property in South Sudan: A Desk Review


This report presents a review of the existing literature on customary law and practices, attitudes and beliefs (social norms) and other factors that create barriers to women’s access to and control over land and property in South Sudan. It also presents existing efforts to improve women’s property rights. The findings emphasize not only access, but also security of that access and its limitations, the ability to use land as desired and the ability to control income derived from land.

  • Acknowledgements
  • Acronyms
  • Executive summary
  • 1. Context: Displacement, dispossession and challenges to return
  • 2. Statutory and customary land governance frameworks
  • 3. Why women’s access to land and property matters: A conceptual framework
  • 4. The institutional environment: Frameworks for gender equality and land governance
  • 5. Barriers to women’s access to housing, land and property
    • 5.1. Sociocultural barriers to land access and control
      • 5.1.1. Patriarchal power and male decision-making in the home
      • 5.1.2. Character or reputational assault 
      • 5.1.3. Secondary rights to land
      • 5.1.4. Bride price (or bride wealth) 
      • 5.1.5. Inheritance practices
      • 5.1.6. Wife inheritance (levirate marriage) 
      • 5.1.7. Customary divorce practices 
      • 5.1.8. Constraints on mobility (approaching land administration and court authorities)
    • 5.2. Institutional barriers to land access and control
      • 5.2.1. Lack of legal knowledge, information and awareness
      • 5.2.2. Discriminatory views and lack of implementation of statutory law and practices
      • 5.2.3. Privileging of customary law in both customary and statutory courts
      • 5.2.4. Lack of transparency and collusion in land allocation
      • 5.2.5. Lack of due process (justice system)
      • 5.2.6. Lack or loss of documentation
      • 5.2.7. Lack of family and inheritance laws
  • 6. Initiatives and opportunities to improve women’s land rights
    • 6.1. Cross-sectoral and ministerial initiatives for women’s land rights
    • 6.2. United nations and civil society initiatives to support women’s land rights
    • 6.3. Women’s presence in land governance committees and land dispute resolution 
    • 6.4. Community leaders and elders supporting women’s claims to land
    • 6.5. Women securing and registering land under their own names
  • 7. Conclusion
  • Bibliography