Land rights in Africa are more than just the ownership of land. They are openly rooted in a range of social, political and economic relationships and units including households and kinship networks with multiple identities that are often overlapping and layered in character. Understanding the current trends in land tenure and land rights commodification and appropriation by powerful stakeholders is crucial for engaging relevant processes of social and political change within African societies. Of particular significance are the alternative avenues eventuated by the rapid collapse of communal tenure systems through the increased commodification and subsequent privatization of land. In this situation legal pluralism has the contradictory effect of opening up opportunities to negotiate land rights and resist the appropriation of land by the state, capitalist enterprise and other agents and eroding traditional avenues for marginalised groups like women and migrants to access land. Despite the plethora of research and political activism around issues of land grabbing and land commodification in Africa, their gender dimensions are often neglected. Yet, regulatory frameworks of land tenure, be it commons-based traditional institutions or formalized private based titling systems are directly shaped by power relations like gender, class, and race.
Claims to land are not only linked to group membership but such membership serves as a way of defining belonging. Discourses and struggles over land tenure and land rights are therefore closely linked to the politics of place and identity which have shaped African politics during the last decades. Whereas recent research on land and belonging often deals with the way ethnicity is constructed and instrumentalized, the way gender is renegotiated within these discourses is often neglected.
The awareness within critical social science research about changes in land use patterns through land commodification in Africa has increased in the past years, the advancements that feminist researchers have accomplished between the 1970s and 1990s on gender and land tenure reforms seem almost forgotten.
This is much to the detriment of women and other marginalised groups, as gender-differentiated effects of these social and ecological transformations shape the everyday reality of rural groups such as farmers, agricultural workers and pastoralists.
Existing studies on women and land often neglect that the different geographical, historical, political and socio-economic cultural and legal realities which shape land rights in any given country are of the utmost importance, and that gender is only one of the differentiating factors, intersecting in critical ways with others such as generation, education, ethnic belonging and economic situation.
The recent shift away from a gendered focus in land research is conflicting with the increasing openness particularly among young African academics to include a gender-sensitive lens within their research. This is not to speculate that there is a complete lack of gender sensitivity among young researchers carrying out studies on tenure reforms and land use in Africa. However, the dearth of epistemological underpinnings and their related methodological applications to highlight gender dynamics within interdisciplinary researches seem to cripple many young African researchers to be open to gender sensitivity in their research. Thus the lack of knowledge about feminist methodology and theory often leads to a continuation of gender-blind research. A related challenge is the insufficient grasp of appropriate methodological tools to rigorously interrogate the intersection of gender and other forms of social relations that serve to further disadvantage marginalised groups. For instance, the World Bank induced land reforms that currently engage several African countries have been noted for their inability to incorporate the appropriate gendered dimensions usually blamed on the stress of economic efficiency to the detriment of social gender relations that underscore land relations in Africa.
It is within this context that the University of Cape Coast Summer School Series is being conceptualized.