What do we know about gender and large-scale land acquisitions? | Land Portal

By Landesa Responsible Investments in Property and Land (RIPL) Project


This blog was produced for the LEGEND Land Policy Bulletin. Land: Enhancing Governance for Economic Development (LEGEND) is a DFID programme that aims to improve land rights protection, knowledge and information, and the quality of private sector investment in DFID priority countries.

Agricultural investments can benefit local communities, but evidence suggests that women lose out on those benefits and bear a disproportionate share of the negative impacts. Landesa and other organisations are working to address the limited research on this topic and provide practical guidance to investors and other relevant stakeholders on how to develop gender-sensitive investments.


Land rights — who holds them, how strong they are — are one of the key factors influencing who participates in land investment negotiations within communities, and  who may ultimately benefit from them. This means that women’s weaker land rights can make them more vulnerable to losing out in investment processes. Though large-scale land acquisitions have attracted global attention, far less consideration has been paid to their gender aspects. However, a number of organisations are working to address this research gap and are yielding new insights.

Women more likely to be negatively affected by land- based investments


Changes in land use tend to affect men and women differently. Where investments result in communities losing land, women are likely to be disproportionately affected. Although impacts on women and men are varied and context-specific, initial research suggests that changes in land use and/or control can result in:

Customary norms and practices undermine women’s access to and control over land


Customary norms and practices often greatly influence how investment projects impact a community. While contexts differ, customary norms and practices often undermine women’s rights when land is commoditised or when outside interests are present:


Since customary norms create gender inequalities when it comes to land, investments are likely to result in differentiated outcomes for men and women. These barriers can block investors from creating better outcomes for women, as local issues around gendered land ownership are often highly complex.  

Recommendations and way   forward

All these issues present challenges to companies seeking to make socially responsible land investments (which is different from Corporate Social Responsibility and should be part of core operational business thinking). Failing to take gender differences into account is likely to leave women without a voice – and potentially in an even worse position than they were prior to the investment. In the long term, this could increase the company’s operational costs and reputational risk.


Women’s needs and rights therefore need to be explicitly factored in when designing projects. ‘Gender-neutral’ land tenure analyses can be poorly conceived and implemented because they wrongly presume that rules apply equally to men and women. It is therefore crucial to understand and address gender differences in the context of commercial agriculture. Adequate budget, staffing allocations and targeted activities (as outlined in a comprehensive gender strategy adaptable to the local context) are good starting points.  


Companies can overcome these hurdles, but they need clarity and support. Landesa’s ‘Playbooks’, which are being developed under the Responsible Investments in Property and Land project, aim to educate companies on the importance of women’s land rights. The Playbooks give step-by-step guidance to help companies reduce their land-related risk, while ensuring that women and men affected by land-related investments benefit equitably.


In order to protect and promote women’s rights in land-based investments, efforts must be undertaken not only by investors, but also by governments, practitioners and communities.


For more information contact Leslie Hannay at leslieh@resourceequity.org

Related content: 

Proportion of countries where the legal framework (including customary law) guarantees women’s equal rights to land ownership and/or control


Last updated on 1 February 2022

This indicator is currently classified as Tier II. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) is the main Custodian agency. UN Women and the World Bank are partner agencies.

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