Gendered land rights in the rural areas of Namaqualand : a study of women's perceptions and understandings
This study focuses on women's perceptions of land rights in the communal areas of Namaqualand in the Northern Cape province of South Africa. Here women farm land which they can access only through their relationships with male kin. Women's use rights are dependent on their relationships with fathers, husbands and sons; and it is virtually impossible for women to obtain land in their own names. Women's own views of rights, of access, of control and authority over land display a significant gender bias in favour of men. This study explores women's understandings and perceptions of land rights and agriculture and other forms of land use. The objectives of the study are to explore the links between patriarchal social systems and women's conservative attitudes towards holding land; and to show how current policy processes and legislation – aimed at strengthening the rights of existing landholders in communal areas – allow local customs to continue to entrench gender discriminatory practices. A small study was conducted through in-depth interviews with sixty-five women and two focus group discussions with women in Namaqualand. The scope of the study was limited to exploring the nature of women's land rights in five of the communal areas of Namaqualand; formal and informal "rules" around women's land rights; women's practices of asserting or realising land rights; challenges and opportunities that women experience in claiming their land rights; the views and understandings of women in relation to land use and its contribution to livelihoods; and how women understand the impact of current land reform policies on their access to land. For the purpose of this thesis, literature on land tenure, gender and land rights as well as on the history of the former Coloured rural reserves of Namaqualand was considered. The key findings of the study indicate that women are disadvantaged by historical norms, values and attitudes, which afford them only secondary rights to land. Yet, informal land practices – however limited – show that in some cases women are creating opportunities to gain access to land independently. For this to become the norm rather than an exception, these practices need recognition and support within the on-going land reform transformation process in Namaqualand.