In 2016, Akina Mama wa Afrika with support from the Commonwealth Foundation partnered with the Women’s Land Rights Movement in Malawi, NGO Coordinating Council in Zambia, and Swaziland Women’s Land Rights Coalition in Swaziland to conduct feminist research on women’s land rights in Southern Africa, especially in the face of increasing large scale land acquisition for investments in Africa.
This is in line with the aspirations enshrined in progressive legal instruments on gender equality including the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). The CEDAW obligates all member states to “address rural women’s precarious living conditions and lack of ownership of land and inheritance by ensuring that appropriate measures are taken to eliminate all forms of discrimination against women with respect to ownership and inheritance of land.” The research was conducted to generate evidence for advocacy and policy influence for better land governance for women.
In Zambia, Malawi, and Swaziland, despite the proliferation of several laws and policies, implementation remains grossly inadequate. The research found that patriarchal and negative cultural norms continue to create barriers for women to enjoy their property rights. This is coupled with women’s limited awareness of their rights, expensive legal justice and inadequate participation of women in institutions that administer land.
“Cultural, social, and religious customs prevent them from owning or doing what they wish with their land. On the rare occasion that a woman is receiving personal land from her chief, it is usually a small, low quality plot that is not practical for farming. The term rare occasion is used due to the fact that women seldom inherit land from family or even deceased husbands,”
An interview respondent from Zambia
In Malawi, women cannot inherit land from their deceased husbands, however, they do inherit land from their matrilineal family. Similarly, in Zambia, women cannot inherit land at all from their deceased husbands if under a State lease and even if it is not, they only inherit 20%. Additionally, this research also unveiled incidents where traditional Chiefs in Malawi will threaten to retract land from women and their families unless they receive sexual favours from them. If denied, many of these Malawian women are assaulted, ostracized, or left homeless.
This therefore emboldens land rights and women rights activists, policy makers, academia, and all key actors to ensure that laws and policies that have been developed are adequately implemented with a feminist lens. The stepping stone is to ensure that more feminist leaders are effectively participating in leadership and decision-making. Rural women also need to be continually empowered and given agency in order for them to know their rights and to speak out. This means more women must be in positions of leadership in their community in order to allow this to happen. A strong and vibrant women’s land rights movement will go a long way to tackle these issues and ensure that women’s land rights in Southern African are secured and respected.
It is clear that with more women able to access and own land, rural women will be more likely address sexual and gender based violence and reap other benefits such as financial autonomy and security, agency, and empowerment.
International Women’s Day is the day women all over the world celebrate the achievements and struggles in the fight for gender equality and women’s rights. Tragically for sisters on the African continent, Women’s Day came with the passing of our own Christine Achieng in Zimbabwe, where she was Country Director of Plan International. Not only has the women’s movement lost a progressive thinker, but also an enthusiast of women’s rights and gender equality.
Christine was an Alumna of Akina Mama wa Afrika’s 2003 cohort of the African Women’s Leadership Institute (AWLI). AMwA and the entire women’s movement will miss her trailblazing leadership and contribution to the movement.
We celebrate the patriot, human rights defender and civil society leader that Christine has been right from her work with Action Aid International – Uganda, DANIDA, Dan Church Aid, Foundation for Human Rights Initiative, CARE International through to PLAN International where she was at the time of her demise. Her candle will never stop burning.
We loved her, learned from her, traveled with her, laughed with her, mourned with her, danced with her and have been touched by her generosity. Here’s to Christine because she gave everything her 100%!
Rest in glory sister Christine, you fought a good fight!
Christine supervised me at CARE International in Uganda. Her supervision was a mentorship program for me. The very many successful projects I headed in CARE were due to her mentorship. Even after she left CARE Uganda, she continued to be my reference. I will forever miss her, till we meet again.
- Gloria Akisa Amaniyo