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Women's rights and access to land in Africa

Despite supportive laws in many countries, women often struggle to achieve secure land access (IDRC/Peter Bennett)
Despite supportive laws in many countries, women often struggle to achieve secure land access
IDRC/Peter Bennett

Women produce more than 80 per cent of the food in Africa, yet they own only one per cent of the land. Improving women's access to and control over land is seen by many as crucial to enhancing food and nutrition security, and reducing poverty. Having control over land would also strengthen the position of women within the household and promote other social and economic rights. Yet despite supportive laws in many countries, women often face discrimination, particularly when widowed or divorced.

At a symposium hosted by the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) in Nairobi, Kenya, in September 2010, researchers from across Africa shared their findings and recommendations with policymakers. They also shared their thoughts with New Agriculturist on a number of key issues.

Relationship between land rights, poverty and food security

Women are the ones who produce the food. Women are the ones who take care of feeding families. So there is an evident link between land rights for woman and food security in Africa.
Fatou Diop, Gender Resource Centre Coordinator, Gaston Berger University, Senegal

Lacking secure land tenure, women are less likely to invest in improved farm production (IDRC/Anne Karine Brodeur)
Lacking secure land tenure, women are less likely to invest in improved farm production
IDRC/Anne Karine Brodeur

Better land rights definitely translate into the ability of one to invest into the land. However, it is not just a question of good land rights that will guarantee our food security. Food security also comes with infrastructure.
Odenda Lumumba, Kenya Land Alliance, Kenya

The relation between food security and ending poverty is clear. You need land to produce and if you do not have access to land, you cannot invest in it in order to increase your productivity.
Dr Diallo Asseta, International Fertilizer Development Center (IFDC), South Africa

There is a relationship between having land rights, achieving food security and overcoming poverty. But land isn't the only asset that women require. A package of support must accompany land rights. We must also look at food sovereignty because food sovereignty is about all the aspects that relate to food: not just the land, not just having something to eat but also to ensure that we protect our seeds, we protect our environment and that we have good quality food that is culturally acceptable.
Mercia Andrews, Trust for Community Outreach in Education, South Africa

Political support for women's land rights?

The political will is there in the sense of policies that are supporting improved access to land by women but the implementation at the grassroots is the problem.
Sunungurai Dominica Chingarande, University of Zimbabwe

Laws to ensure women's access to land may exist, but grassroots implementation often lags behind (© FAO/Giulio Napolitano)
Laws to ensure women's access to land may exist, but grassroots implementation often lags behind
© FAO/Giulio Napolitano

Political will is improving but we are nowhere near where we ought to be, and part of the reason has to do with the fact that governments make promises they do not deliver on. Politicians will quarrel in parliament when it comes to passing laws which support women's land rights. Women's groups are working very hard but many of them have not been able to mobilise the very broad section of society to support this idea of women's land rights. And researchers are still struggling to find all the information we need to be able to deal with this problem.
Dzodzi Tsikata, Head of the Centre for Gender Studies and Advocacy University of Ghana

Political will is very, very limited. There is not really the existence of such a will. The international issues arising out of globalisation are tending to push our respective governments to try to promote these fundamental issues. But the will, the political will is lacking, I must confess.
Honourable Joseph Mbah Ndam, Vice President of the National Assembly, Cameroon

There is a change even though the pace is so slow. I think globally our voices should raise the concerns of African countries at the global level and then we will win at the end of the day.
Emily Tjale, Land Access Movement of South Africa, South Africa

Change through education and empowerment

Women must understand and know that having access to land is their right and their mentality should be changed. The leaders should be trained too. They should know that it is in their interests that women should be having access to land and control.
Odeth Kantengwa, Rwanda Women's Network, Rwanda

Women must be sensitised and empowered, in order to claim their rights to land (IDRC/Stephanie Colvey)
Women must be sensitised and empowered, in order to claim their rights to land
IDRC/Stephanie Colvey

More has to be done in terms of empowering women with the relevant knowledge, how they can use the land, how they can use the law to access their rights, and also working with men to appreciate why it is important for women to access land, why it is important for women to control land.
Maggie Kathewera Banda, Women's Legal Resources Centre, Malawi

Sensitisation of women of their rights is key. It is important that you also educate the entire community, including the girl child: taking them to school, putting them in a position where they can be able to access careers that will build their capacity to speak and talk on behalf of other ordinary women within the communities. If women continue working as a team and agitating for their rights they will be able to increase their access to land.
Charles Oranga, FAO, Kenya

We will make better progress if governments educate women on land reforms, on land laws, where to access finance and how to make that land more commercially viable.
Fati Alhassan, GrassrootsSisterhood Foundation, Ghana

Our task is to organise ourselves as women, to know our rights, to act and to defend our rights and to be conscious actors in our society. We must take our rightful place within society, and we can only do that if we are strong in our organisation and when we begin to exercise these rights.
Mercia Andrews, Trust for Community Outreach in Education

In whose interest?

It is the interest of the whole family. It is the women that feed the continent. The only guarantee that one would have that the African continent is to survive will be how much guaranteed tenure security can women acquire in matters of land.
Odenda Lumumba, Kenya Land Alliance

Are men better off when women are empowered? (WRENmedia)
Are men better off when women are empowered?

Of course it is in the man's interest that land rights for women be improved because in most cases men and women work together in raising their families. So where you have the woman empowered to utilise land by enjoying land rights, then the men are better off. Whether they are husbands, brothers or sons, they will enjoy the good results of the woman's exercise.
Dr Dwasi Jane, University of Nairobi, Kenya

Men know that if they allow women to access land then they will be losing power because all the power rests in the land.
Charles Oranga, FAO

Men and women are not enemies. But when we improve women's positions we are improving women's position in their own rights to bargain with men. If we are looking at the household where we improve women's situation, we improve the situation of the whole household, and that includes men.
Mercia Andrews

Law and enforcement

Many laws recognise women's right to land but the difficulty is the application of this law. We need to make the law concrete and applicable.
Dr Diallo Asseta, IFDC, South Africa

At the national level you have government passing laws. But the major problem we have is enforcement. In Uganda you have the consent clause that states that a man cannot sell land unless the woman consents. But how do you enforce that? First of all, the onus is on the woman to prove that she has not consented. At what point is that consent genuine consent or coerced? So the law does not take into consideration the social issues that are embedded within the households.
Maureen Nakirunda, Centre for Basic Research, Uganda

One of the key approaches will have to be the reform of customary land tenure systems because they privilege male interests. It is not an easy task because we are talking about power relations, which have to be reformed, and it will be contested. But until we are able to do that it is not clear how we can deliver equal land rights.
Dzodzi Tsikata, University of Ghana

Customary land tenure systems often favour male interests (© FAO/Walter Astrada)
Customary land tenure systems often favour male interests
© FAO/Walter Astrada

To make sure that women get their leverage in land matters will require revisiting the land distributive mechanism. Men are not going to take it lying down but if the law is very clear, the law must be enforced, and I think impunity in these matters must never be entertained.
Odenda Lumumba

The best way to bring these rules and principles into the fabric of the African societies is by legislation, which must be vigorous. Go back to legislation and guarantee the rights of women to access land and to the use of land and to titling.
Honourable Joseph Mbah Ndam, Cameroon

The key approach would be to organise and mobilise more women and have a dialogue with the local authorities, especially in the villages, around their issues and the challenges that they face when trying to access land.
Emily Tjale, Land Access Movement of South Africa

Part of wider changes

If women were able to access credit it means that they would be able to increasingly break the barriers of the land market and be able to purchase and own land.
Dr Simon Rutabajuka, Makarere University, Uganda

To improve the issue of women's access to land you need a multi-pronged approach that looks at the political dynamics that prevent women from accessing and owning land. You also need to look at the economics, social arrangements and roles that men and women play, and how these militate against women being able to contribute to their countries and to own and access land.
Patricia Kameri-Mbote, University of Nairobi, Kenya

The purpose of improving women's land rights is to contribute to improving their wider social, political and economic equality. Therefore, you cannot separate improvements in land rights from these wider improvements. In the same way you cannot improve women's equality without improving land rights. They are linked. Women's land rights are an integral part of the social economic and political rights that you have to improve.
Dzodzi Tsikata

Date published: November 2010


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Empowering women economically to acquire land could be the b... (posted by: Sule Sale)


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