In Africa, the pursuit of gender equality in inheritance rights remains one of the most difficult challenges due to its entrenched patriarchal characteristics. This is also the case in the rural communities of South-Eastern Nigeria. This article investigates gender discrimination in the region, among the Igbo ethnic group, with regard to land property rights; and makes policy recommendations to overcome the failures of past intervention efforts, many of which considered this problem as too culturally sensitive.

Laws protecting women’s rights are often ignored at the village level. For example, Section 43 of the Nigerian Constitution guarantees every Nigerian (man or woman) the right to acquire and own immovable property, and the Nigerian Land Use Act of 1978 also confers general powers upon men and women to own real property. However, customary law in Nigeria’s rural communities restricts women’s inheritance rights, thereby perpetuating female poverty and subordination. Furthermore, violating the land rights of women generates competition and social conflicts between men and women, which have implications for peace, social cohesion and development.

The following are among the conclusions of this study:

Access to natural resources in rural communities of South-Eastern Nigeria has remained a major form of economic domination by men, which has left women, particularly widows, highly vulnerable.
Moving away from long-held beliefs and customs toward respecting gender equity requires dialogue involving all stakeholders.
Change must also affect structures that generate conflict through deprivation, exclusion and other forms of injustice.
Peaceful conflict transformation that involves the development of perspectives through dialogue with all parties (at many levels) changes the way men and women think about womanhood or widowhood, and helps them move toward positive peace.
An inclusive and better gender-sensitive approach in policy making would improve the effectiveness of, and compliance with, legal and socio-economic reforms.
The equal rights of men and women to land are essential for ensuring sustainable rural development, social equity, economic growth and any effort to address gender inequalities.
Policy reform to ensure the effective, equitable and sustainable use of land in Nigeria will bring about poverty reduction and development.

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