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Land reform and gender equality are important development issues in post-Genocide Rwanda. Beginning in 1999, the government of Rwanda passed and implemented reforms which granted women rights to own and use land on an equal status with men. However, as is expected with widespread social reform, obstacles continue to inhibit widespread gender equality in practice. In Rwanda, major social obstacles manifest in the form of (1) resistance to allowing daughters to inherit land from their parents, (2) adherence to assumptions of female inferiority, and (3) the persistence of informal marriages, in which wives remain unprotected by the new laws. Interested actors have documented these obstacles and proposed legal and policy solutions to overcome them. This article seeks to identify the causes underlying these obstacles to gender equality. Through this analysis, I find that land scarcity, vestiges of discriminatory legal systems, and gendered power structures are significant underlying causes of these social obstacles. I argue that many of the currently proposed solutions are inadequate because they do not address these underlying causes, as is necessary to better secure women's land rights.

The question currently before Rwanda - how to ensure gender equality in the face of continuing social obstacles - has importance outside Rwanda's borders. The underlying causes discussed in this Article are not unique to Rwanda. Understanding the ways in which these factors inhibit gender equality, and finding solutions to overcome them, are lessons learned not just for Rwanda, but also for the international development community.


Reposted with permission of HeinOnline and the Yale Human Rights & Development Law Journal