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Enhancing Customary Justice Systems in the Mau Forest, Kenya: A Strategy for Strengthening Women’s Land Rights

By: Deborah Espinosa, Florence Santos

Kenya’s new Constitution guarantees all Kenyans the right to access justice, recognizes customary justice institutions to the extent they do not violate the Constitution, and prohibits gender discrimination in land matters. These provisions form the basis for the USAID-supported Kenya Justice Project, which piloted a model for improving women’s access to customary justice as a means to strengthen and enforce women’s land rights. An impact evaluation of the pilot found significant and large improvements in women’s knowledge of their rights, women’s confidence in the dispute resolution process and outcomes, men’s respect of women’s rights, and modest improvements in physical and social accessibility of the local justice system for women.

This paper describes one effort to improve customary justice systems’ enforcement of women’s formal rights to land in Kenya: the pilot project Enhancing Customary Justice Systems in the Mau Forest, Kenya. Based on the pilot results and evaluation findings, this pilot demonstrates that the typically all-male customary institution, which holds power over its people and seemingly deeply entrenched biases against women, can transform itself into an institution that recognizes and enforces constitutional rights, including women’s land rights.