Zambian land policy guarantees ownership by women

Date: September 30, 2011
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During the launch of 2010 Barometer in Lusaka, Vincent Mbumwe, information specialist in the Ministry of Gender, announced that the government had enacted a policy to ensure that 30% of the land is owned by women. While this is yet to be put into practice, the Ministry of Local Government and Housing as well as traditional leadership, the adoption of this policy, and its direct linkage to the provisions of the Protocol, mark a key breakthrough.  

Men in Zambia still have more access to, control over and ownership of land in comparison to women. The few women who access, control and own land still face many challenges. This is the more so when the land is controlled by traditional leaders who apply customary practices.

The shift towards women owning land follows pressure from civil society, churches and other stakeholders. The policy entitles women to be allocated 30% of all advertised Council or state land. Women can then compete with men for the remaining 70%. The question is now whether the policy is truly benefiting women, and the chances of the target being met by 2015.

There are two types of land in Zambia: state and customary. The latter covers about six percent of the total land area. Customary land is held under customs and traditions governing land use and ownership. Under customary law, when one’s husband dies, a widow sometimes is chased from the land left for her by her late husband.

A case in point is that of a widow in Monze southern Province, Theresa Chilala, who had her homestead turned into a grave yard by relatives of her late husband. Until some civil society groupings intervened in her situation, relatives buried seven bodies in the back yard of her house. Chilala was tormented by her brother-in-law following her to marry him after the death of her husband in 1996. The traditional Tonga custom allows for a widow to be inherited by her in-laws after having sex with one of her dead husband’s male relatives to free the widow from her husband’s ghost.  

 Some of the actions being taken include:

  • Government conducting countrywide consultations through the House of Chiefs to enable them to develop policies and strategies that assist women to acquire land
  • Review of current land policy
  • Sensitisation of traditional leaders on the need of giving land to women

Challenges include:

  • The process of acquiring land is still cumbersome. Potential land owners must approach the local authority that is supposed to advertise the land to the public. Applications must then be made for the land, and the Commissioner of Lands in the Ministry of Lands, acting on behalf of the national President, approached for a title deed. This title is then given after relevant documentation has been finalised and necessary surveys conducted.
  • In some instances women are still not allowed to own land and control land under customary law. Their male relatives are instead entrusted to hold land rights on their behalf.
  • Customary law also enables a widow’s relatives to grab land and other property as well as interfere with the livelihood of her family.
  • Despite being a signatory Zambia does not fully adhere to some international rights treaties such as the SADC Gender Protocol.
  • The 30 percent policy is not fully benefiting women because most council land has already been taken. Implementation is slow.
  • 90 percent of Zambian falls under traditional designation and only 10 percent under state. This means vast land that women should benefit from is still controlled by traditional leaders who maintain cultural practices that bar women from acquiring land.
  • Review of the Land Act is slow.
  • Some financial institutions still require collateral for women to access loans from the banks to enable them buy land.
  • Resources for land purchase are limited.

Out of the total number 0f 6, 013 land offers issued in 2010, 1, 167 offers were issued to women representing 19.4 percent of the total offers issued. This was a slight increase in comparison to the number of offers issued to women in 2009.

Table 4.2 Land offers issued by gender from 2006 to 2010







Total number of offers issued

7, 253


6, 654



Number of offers issued to women

1, 612

1, 001




% of offers issued to women






Source: Zambia Ministry of Lands 2011

Figure 4.2 demonstrates that women still have a minority share in land in Zambia. While there is room for improvement the policy has helped improve the situation. Some of the measurable outcomes of the 30 percent policy are that more women accessing and controlling land; it provides policy   and other initiatives to protect women; traditional leaders have increased awareness of the need to allow women to own land; successful government lobbying is taking place; cultural practices that prohibit women from controlling land are slowly being done away with; and women are more able to access loans from financial institutions because of successful awareness raising initiatives.

Although more work needs to be done in making more land accessible for distribution and in reviewing overall land policy, if fully implemented and followed, the initiative can be replicated in other countries and ensure women’s economic empowerment through access to land.  


One thought on “Zambian land policy guarantees ownership by women”

James Lameck Meja says:

This policy is very good. However the inability by women to still access this land is due to inadquate information to the women. What is required for them to access it?

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