Women’s access to land in Africa

Empirical evidence reveals that more attention should be put on gender inequalities in access to control over land. As in most Sub-Saharan African countries, the case study of Zambia reveals that traditional customs and norms which constitute the basement of its rural and urban societies strongly shape and determine the rights of men and women on land, as well as the dominant patriarchal inheritance pattern. Women start out with low hopes and are marginalized when it comes to ownership of and access to land in the household decision-making and even land disputes under customary and state laws. Additionally, women are constrained by economic, education, health and legislative factors. For example, widowhood is usually associated to loss of right of access to plots of lands and homes where their labor has been invested for many years. Because of that, widows are among the poorest in Zambia. In its efforts to promote women’s equal treatment in land, the Zambian government has committed to undertake effective measures towards the international community and its population at the national level. Though these efforts are laudable, there is a great need to shift from fine words to concrete fulfillment, especially of the Gender Policy portfolio of 2000. Moreover, institutional changes need to be carried against the protected status of customary law under the Constitution and the Land Acts for better promotion of women’s rights on land. Decentralization and simplification of land administration and management bureaucracy could probably reduce the transaction costs encountered in the process of land registration and obtaining of title deeds on land. Decentralization of the governance structure has started already in most African countries, yet more efforts still need to be done. Jointly, if men in any sector of the economy from agriculture to policy making and implementation passing by business, industry, both in rural and urban areas are sensitized on the benefits they will gain by considering women as partners in the development process rather than ‘inferior ones’ in society, community, households; then everyone will benefit and the country as a whole. Altogether, a significant emphasis needs also to be put on developing social and economic incentives for joint ownership for spouses in order to secure the status of the widow and orphans if it happens that the male spouse dies. Some other efforts need to be poured on the education of citizens on women’s rights, and on enhancing women gathering into groups in rural and urban areas to act collectively and to be empowered in their fights for equity on land issues. In so doing, African government, NGOs and the organizations of civil society have to face many challenges. In fact, the roles of traditions and customs have to be recognized and considered by institutions and policy makers for clear definition of land rights and legislations at the local and national levels, and a better improvement of gender equality in the long run. Still, land reforms cannot be carried out overnight. It is a gradual process which requires time, perseverance and funds to secure the reform process, design and negotiating phases, implementation, monitoring, evaluation and the setting up and running of an effective and efficient information system. Equally and not the least, administration staffs skills and capacities should be enforced and at the same time cooperation between public, private and neutral (NGOs, civil society organizations, etc.) land dealing organizations shall be promoted. For sure, if women could get more access to land property rights, this would constitute a substantiate incentive and/or strengthen households’ strategies to improve their livelihood sources and income.

(Extract from an unpublished work on ‘Women’s access to land in Zambia’, Tchatchoua-Djomo, 2010)


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