Land relations are critical for women's right in Ghana. This is because of the centrality of land as a resource for the livelihoods of the majority of our population, food, water, fuel and medical plants.
Those who control lands and its resources also gain social and political power and authority. As such, women's unequal land rights affect their access to other resources and their economic, social and political status in society.
However, there are constitutional provisions which protect women's land rights in Ghana. Article 35(1) of the 1992 Constitution of Ghana enjoins the State to promote the integration of all the peoples and prohibit discrimination and prejudice on grounds of origin, circumstances of birth, ethnicity, gender, religion and other beliefs.
The Constitution also requires the State to guarantee the ownership of property and the rights of inheritance of all (Article 36 (7)). However, the land tenure and administration system in Ghana faces serious problems which undermine these constitutional guarantees.
Land problems include growing scarcity, competition over land use and environmental and land degradation. There is general indiscipline in the land markets, indeterminate boundaries of customarily held lands, a weak land administration system, and the lack of equity in land tenure systems.
Additionally, legal pluralism, which is a legacy of colonial rule, and which has been characterised by the co-existence of British-derived land interests and customary land tenure interests, has reduced women's secondary land interests.
There are also tenure problems specific to different locations and conditions which require attention. These locations and conditions include rural, peri-urban and urban areas; Northern and Southern Ghana and patrilineal and matrilineal inheritance systems. Areas of the country where there are mining and logging activities and large projects such as commercial plantations and dams also have urgent problems of land tenure.
Policies under the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) have resulted in a massive expansion of large-scale surface gold mining and an increase in the activities of small scale local miners.
There is an increased interest in the acquisition of large tracts of land by locals and foreigners for commercial farming, industry and real estate. In urban areas, the expansion of private state housing has created many problems in the buying and selling of lands, resulting in many conflicts and litigation. These have exposed the inadequacies of the land administration system in Ghana and raised concerns about the ability of existing land tenure system to promote development in Ghana.
Categories of Land Users
There are different categories of land users who face problems of access and control. Women are especially vulnerable groups in this regards. As wives, women experience discriminatory customary practices, particularly in agriculture. Women's contributions are devalued and their interests in family lands are limited by marital residence. Women are often given lands of poor quality and small sizes.
The clearing of the land is customarily assigned to men as this establishes the most important individual interest in land. It also affords them the use and control of land. This has prevented the majority of women from securing control over virgin land belong to their lineage.
Marriage and Land Rights
Marriage is probably the most important source of farming lands for women because it is within this context that the women work and live. The interest of spouse in each other's linage lands are quite well established and offer some measures of security of tenure. However, the interest in land acquired through marriage is inferior to that acquired through family membership.
In addition, access to a husband's land depends on marital residence, the continued existence of the marriage, the goodwill of the spouse and the size of the land he is entitled to. A wife's duty to work on her husband's farms affects women's attempt at farming for themselves and therefore their ability to use available lands. Men, in this regard, do not have similar responsibility to their wives and therefore, have freedom to concentrate on their own farming.
In situation of marital conflicts or divorce, the insecurity of wife's interest in land belonging to her husband becomes clear. When such women return to their family compounds, they lose out on land they farmed and developed during the marriage. This is because customary law does not recognise marital property or non-monetary contributions to the acquisition of property during marriage even though widows might benefit from their children's inheritance. The fact that they cannot inherit property from their husbands increases their social vulnerability and poverty.
Customary Tenancies: Abusa & Abunu
Parliament is required to by the constitution to enact legislations to regulate the property rights of spouse. This is to ensure equal access to property acquired jointly in marriage and ensure equitable distribution of such property at the dissolution of marriage (Article 22 (2 and 3)). However, years after the adoption of the Constitution, this has not happened.
Renting land for farming is an option. However, customary tenancies, which are mostly share-cropping arrangement also known as abusa and abunu, have several disadvantages for tenants. Paying a third or half the produce as rent is too expensive. The fact that they are verbal arrangements can encourage disputes about their terms. Women tenants are particularly vulnerable because their relationships with landlords are often mediated through men who assume control over the land?s crops.
Land Tenure Reforms
A land tenure reforms programme, which is in its pilot phase, has been instituted to address the problems of land tenure and administration. The reforms date back to 1999, with the publication of a National Land Policy.
Since 2000, a World Bank-sponsored Land Administration Programme (LAP) has been instituted. The LAP seeks, through a series of pilot programmes, to demarcate title and register the lands interest groups and individuals. As well, it aims to streamline, strengthen and decentralise land administration.
Concerns have been raised about the reforms. They could worsen the tenure uncertainties experienced by women, tenants, pastoralists and young people whose interests in land are already not very secure.
Moreover, the LAP has not fully addressed the issues affecting women access to land. The weaknesses of the consultative processes of the LAP have further marginalised disadvantaged groups.
To change women's situation, a fundamental transformation in customary tenure systems and land administration practices which goes beyond the LAP is necessary.
It is therefore against this backdrop that the Ghanaian women demand, among others, that the state ensures that achieving equity in access to and control of land becomes an integral component of the LAP and reviewed to ensure the tenure security of social groups such as women, young persons, tenants and pastoralists. The LAP should take immediate steps to ensure that disadvantaged social groups have an effective representation in consultative and decision making processes to enable the project address their concerns.
As part of the land tenure reforms, customary laws of access to land and inheritance which are discriminatory and unconstitutional must be reformed by 2015 to enable women participate equally with men in land administration at national, regional and local levels.
Additionally, the Lands Commission should be reconstituted to achieve the equal representation of women and men. The constitutional provision governing the establishment of the Lands Commission must be reformed to ensure that it does not breach constitutional principles of gender.