Social Institutions and State Reach: Examining Change in Gendered Land Rights in Southern Africa

Lauren Honig

September 29, 2023, 12:45–13:45




Promoting joint land management is part of a suite of measures aimed at changing social institutions that undermine women's welfare. Governments in many African countries, prompted by domestic and international civil society, have implemented laws that promise equal land rights to men and women. They have, thus, attempted to change gendered land institutions within their countries. In some cases, actual practice matches the de jure law, while in other cases, practice follows historically rooted rules at odds with the law. This paper examines the uptake of the state's rules of egalitarian land rights in Malawi. We draw on household-level surveys to show that variations in gendered property rights are associated with state reach, on the one hand, and existing practices that shape the costs of deviating from established norms, on the other. Our statistical findings highlight how proximity to the state's conflict resolution forums and information provision reach predicts respondents' perceptions of gendered property rights in the community and within their households. Qualitative analyses of 32 focus groups in communities that differ in their proximity to the state and matrilineal/patrilineal systems shed light on the mechanisms through which state reach impacts social institutions. In addition, to provide additional insight into the external validity of our framework, the statistical results reported here include a shadow case from a neighboring South African country, Zambia. This research addresses broader questions of heterogeneity and change within the social institutions that structure individual behavior, as well as the role that state reach plays in securing property rights for women in Africa.


Lauren Honig, Social Institutions and State Reach: Examining Change in Gendered Land Rights in Southern Africa, IAST Lunch Seminar, Toulouse: IAST, September 29, 2023, 12:45–13:45, room AUDITORIUM 4 (FIRST FLOOR - TSE BUILDING).