Women and men in northern Rwanda work on a public works site, building terraces to prevent soil erosion

Women and men in northern Rwanda work on a public works site, building terraces to prevent soil erosion. Credit: DFID, UK Department for International Development.


By Marco Lankhorst

AUGUST 2012.  Although Rwanda’s laws on land tenure, marital property, and inheritance incorporate progressive ideals of gender equality, they have had little effect on the ground.  Customary rules, which restrict women’s rights to own or inherit land, continue to strongly influence women’s property rights.

More than 80% of the Rwandan population works in agriculture and livestock farming, and the vast majority are subsistence farmers.  Rwanda’s high population density, coupled with inheritance practices that require land holdings to be divided among all sons, has led to increasingly small land holdings, and the return of refugees and prisoners from the 1994 genocide has compounded the mounting pressures on land, making women’s land rights even more vulnerable.

In this brief learn:

  • About the Rwandan government’s approach to managing customary land, and how it differs from the approach of other African governments;
  • How customary laws in Rwanda limit women’s property rights, and why they continue to be applied;
  • About the challenges women face in seeking to protect their land rights;
  • How RCN Justice & Démocratie is working to transform the customary resolution of disputes involving women’s land rights.

Rwanda