WOMEN’S LAND RIGHTS IN AFRICA
AUTHOR: Nguyen Vo, University of Sheffield
12 May, 2015
The first Plenary on Tuesday afternoon was to discuss the heated topic of Women’s Land Rights, with a focus on Africa. This session was presented by Miss Soyata Maiga – Chairperson for the working Group on indigenous Populations of the Africa Commission on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR) with comments from Kafui Kuwonu (Kilimanjaro initiative) and Miriam Sow (ENDA Senegal).
43% of the agricultural workforce in Africa are women and they contribute 70% of food production, but less than 1% of them have their own land. Gender inequality, land inheritance, implementation of land laws on women and successful practices such as the Kilimanjaro initiative are all themes that were discussed in the session. It was also interesting to see the reactions from male participants to the discussions on Women’s Land Right in Africa. Gender inequality has existed for a long time, but it seems that it has usually been only women fighting for their rights. Thus I found the following comment from Mr Koffi Aliwon (an ILC Consultant) really fascinating: “When the land is with women, it is safe. Investment in women’s land rights means investment in land and children”.
But can we take a step back and look at the problem of assuring access to land rights for women? Women, land, children and poverty – it seems that these words are always mentioned together in policy and practice in relation to women’s land rights in Africa. Today, at the Global Land Forum, women and land were discussed in another light – in relation to their productive role and economic contributions. We do not ensure women’s land rights in Africa only because of how women, land and poverty link together. As Soyata Maiga pointed out, it is women who are “the pillar of agriculture and the backbone of food production”. Nonetheless it seems that women do not get enough credit for their contribution to national economies. In order to assure women’s access to land rights, it is crucial that women are recognised for their contribution to society and the economy as a whole. A shift from traditional perspectives to the principle that women are entitled to the land they work on and deserve what they produce would be a major step in securing women’s rights to land. In that way, women can empower themselves to continue down the pathway of equality.
However, how can women’s contribution to national economies be practically accounted for? And how can we help women acknowledge their own rights and empower themselves? This is when we need to move on from policies and guidelines to implementations and practices in securing access to land for women. The example from Kilimanjaro Rural Women’s Initiative, in which rural women across Africa mobilise to claim the lives and dignity they deserve and define what they want for the future, is one successful story of how women overcome the challenges that hold them back. But this story should not only include women. The role of men and local communities are essential to secure women’s Land rights. As Miss Josephine Odera – Director of UNWOMEN West and Central Africa – concluded: “Communities are open to change and have changed.” So does custom. The support and recognition of women’s contribution at all levels: local, national and also continental is necessary to continue women’s fight for a more equal rights to land.