Land Rights for Women: Health, Empowerment and Improved Living Standards.

We are in the month of August, the month for women in South Africa and National Women’s day was recently celebrated on the 9th of August 2016. This month is dedicated to the thousands of women who marched to the Union Buildings on 9 August 1956 in protest against the extension of Pass Laws to women. The year 2016 as declared by the African Union Heads of State and Government at their 25th Ordinary Summit in June 2015 is “the Africa Year of Human Rights, in particular, with focus on the Rights of Women”.

Land Reform and Redistribution Efforts
Since independence from the 1960s, African governments have put in place schemes aimed at redistributing land and increasing access to land for their citizens. In South Africa for example, In 1994 the Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) were introduced as an integrated socio-economic policy framework which aimed to eradicate the redress of inequalities and building a vibrant and democratic South Africa, the RDP program aimed at addressing poverty and extreme deprivation, in doing so issues such as the provision of land and housing, access to safe water and sanitation were included. RDP identified the main elements of land reform as land redistribution, restitution, and tenure reform. Similar land redistribution acts have been passed in other parts of the continent such as The 1992 Land Acquisition Act of Zimbabwe, Namibian Communal Land Reform Act of 2002 and more.
These efforts however have not yielded satisfying results and many Africans still do not own land till date. They face challenges in owning and accessing land and in some cases lose their customary land to investors. According to Garcia 2002 , an estimated sixty percent of Namibia’s total population of approximately two million people have Bantu origins, mainly Ovambo, while 10 percent have European roots. Aboriginal Khoi and San groups represent the other 30 percent of the population. It is the 10 percent of Namibians with European origins who control all aspects of the economy, from both productive and consumption perspectives.
Land however is a vital resource as it provides a livelihood, financial security/stability, in some cases food security and more. Land ownership as stated by Kululwa Muthwa forms the basis of a sustainable economy and provides a starting point for future advancements. In short, land assists in bringing about development for communities, development being the improvement of living standards, reduction in poverty and hunger, investment opportunities, higher incomes and many other more socio-economic benefits. A land owner has the prospect to generate income that would permit them to afford health care, education and other basic needs in their communities. Land ownership thus becomes a form of security to communities.
This still brings us to the question of what redistribution efforts and land reform policies in Africa have achieved. One would then question whether the policies are adequate and effective, more especially when it comes to women’s ownership of land. Do women in Africa benefit from the vast tracts of land, what are the challenges they face in accessing and owning land, are their land rights not prioritised or could it be a mere lack of knowledge in land use? Nonetheless, all these questions point back to a need to address these issues.

Land distribution in southern Africa as a percentage of total land
Individual tenure Communal lands Other public lands
Angola 5.4 88.0 6.6
Botswana 5.0 70.0 25.0
Lesotho 5.0 90.0 5.0
Malawi 4.3 78.7 17.0
Mozambique 2.9 93.0 4.1
Namibia 44.0 41.0 15.0
South Africa 72.0 14.0 14.0
Swaziland 40.0 60.0 0.0
United Republic of Tanzania 1.5 84.0 14.5
Zambia 3.1 89.0 7.9
Zimbabwe 36.0 42.0 22.0
Source: World Bank, 1999; Moyo, 1998.

Gender issues in land access
Redistribution efforts have mostly gone in favour of men, thus excluding women in land making decisions and challenging land ownership and access. In most African homes, tradition plays a big role in land or property ownership. Patriarchal systems are strong and this has led to the current statistics of female land owners on the continent. Secure rights to land are rights that are clearly defined, long-term, enforceable, appropriately transferable, and legally and socially legitimate. Women’s exercise of these rights should not require consultation or approval beyond that required of men. This margin difference has been facilitated by the lack of rights women have to land in most nations. There is a need to address patriarchal issues in land rights in order to increase women’s rights to land. Issues of access to land and traditional men’s cultural practices in regards to land ownership need to be reviewed and attended to, as this will bring about a break in the land ownership barriers women are facing. Land tenure security according to Evelyn Namubiru-Mwaura, is crucial for women’s empowerment and a prerequisite for building secure and resilient communities. Mwaura also highlights that land tenure for most rural women is complicated, with access and ownership often layered with barriers present in their daily realities: discriminatory social dynamics and strata, unresponsive legal systems, lack of economic opportunities, and lack of voice in decision making. She is also of the view that most policy reform, land management, and development programs disregard these realities in their interventions, consequently leading to increased land tenure insecurity for rural women.

In countries such as Guinea, it is said women are rarely granted land in terms of succession, this means a widower continues to face challenges in accessing land that was previously owned by her own husband . If a woman has no access to land she cannot invest and make a better living for herself or her family. Considering the fact that women are responsible for their households and make up a large section of the agricultural labour force, it is fundamental that this group of individuals be respected and their rights to land even more. Papua New Guinea has a customary land tenure system, where communal possession of rights to use and allocate agricultural and grazing land by a group sharing the same cultural identity; a single person usually administers on behalf of the group. It should be noted however that some customary norms discriminate against women.

Land ownership benefits for women
Benefits of securing land rights can be seen from health perspectives; for example, land rights are said to assist women in another area of risk and vulnerability, namely HIV/AIDS. How so? According to Landesa women’s increased economic empowerment through secure land rights can enhance their ability to negotiate safe sex. Additionally, considering secure land rights can lead to increased household food production and food security, with the option of having land rights, women become less vulnerable to engaging in transactional sex as a means of survival. Land and other property can also serve as an income source to cover costs associated with HIV/AIDS, improving women’s ability to cope with the economic and social impact of the disease. This argument is also supported by the United Nations Development Programme , who highlighted that women’s rights to inheritance and property play a crucial role in reducing women’s vulnerability to violence and HIV. Research done in the western parts of Kenya and elsewhere has confirmed that the integration of women’s property and inheritance rights with HIV prevention and treatment does reduce HIV risk at the local level. Moving away from a health perspective, other benefits of secure rights to land can be seen particularly critical for women who become heads of households due to male migration, divorce, or death. Land rights can mean the difference between a woman’s dependence on her family or her husband’s family and the ability “to form a viable, self-reliant female-headed household.”

So what is the way forward with ensuring that women’s rights to land are increased? Is the Maputo Protocol that was established to assist in bringing about changes in these issues contributing and successfully being implemented or is it ineffective and in need of reviewing? Do national governments need to change their legislation in order to enforce and protect women’s rights to land? There are many ways to attend to this issue and education is one of them. Increasing women and girls education puts them in a position to know their rights and to fight for their rights. Education can provide the ultimate solution in terms of creating awareness on the issue and on why it should be addressed. Access to land is already challenging especially in this era of continuous large scale land acquisitions, which is why national governments need to attend to this issue urgently but most importantly, access to land for women should be promoted in the process.

Other measures to be taken into consideration as highlighted by Landesa include interventions in the Legal and regulatory frameworks in countries, Government capacity, Community level involvement and Project Design, Implementation, and Monitoring. In essence, this implies encouraging gender-sensitive laws and regulations and can be seen in Kenya and Tanzania with Kenya’s 2010 Constitution and Tanzania’s Village Land Act of 1999 which both promote equal rights for women with regard to land ownership, access, and use.

About the author:
Hermine Ilunga is the Coordinator of Gravitazz
Continental Initiative (GCI). She is responsible
for primary research, advocacy and funding
for the organization. She is also responsible
for coordinating the Africa Coalition Against
Land Grabs (ACALAG), an initiative in which
G C I i s a S e c r e t a r i a t. C o n t a c t:

Gravitazz Continental Initiative
Gravitazz Continental Initiative also known as GCI is a Not for Profit company with offices in Midrand, Johannesburg South Africa with a focus on the African Continent. The foremost interest of GCI is to draw attention to neglected issues regarding the African continent. GGI promotes, supports and strengthens all initiatives geared at promoting good governance, accountability and sustainable management of land across the African Continent and there by significantly improving livelihoods, contributing to socio-economic development, promoting conservation and empowering communities to determine their own long-term destinies.
GCI is the secretariat of the Africa Coalition Against Land Grabs (ACALAG). ACALAG was formed in 2014 a vision of a democratic, land-grab free and sustainable Africa in which communities enjoy sovereignty over their land and attendant natural resources.
The coalition seeks to identify, document and review country-specific land transactions, build credible evidence for advocacy on the impact of land grabs on communities and ensure capacity strengthening of land-dependent communities by facilitating and organizing opinion and global solidarity of African organizations, land activists and allies committed to the eradication of land grabbing on the continent.
Find out more about us on:
Facebook: Africa Coalition Against Land Grabs
Twitter: @Africalandgrabs
LinkedIn: Gravitazz Continental Initiative


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