Nelly Bassily | November 1, 2010
The International Development Research Centre, or IDRC, hosted a policy symposium entitled Gendered Terrain: Women’s Rights and Access to Land in Africa in Nairobi, Kenya from 14-16 September, 2010. Researchers from across Africa shared their findings and recommendations, and engaged with policy-makers to promote the advancement of women’s rights and gender equality. Over 140 participants attended the event, representing 17 African countries. Based on the symposium, IDRC has drafted a set of recommendations for policy and action and will be finalizing them for broad dissemination. Three writers from Farm Radio Weekly attended the event, with support from IDRC, to report on practical cases of women succeeding in gaining access to land.
Over the past seven years, IDRC has supported more than 20 research projects on gender and land in 14 African countries. These projects analyzed issues such as women’s rights and access to land, the social, institutional, and legal structures that shape land tenure regimes, and the many context-specific situations which can affect women’s rights.
Participant presentations, project summaries and background documents for the symposium can be found here: http://www.idrc.ca/en/ev-154789-201-1-DO_TOPIC.html.
Women’s access to land, property and natural resources is central to realizing their economic rights. Globally, women form the majority of subsistence farmers, and play a critical role in household food security and small-scale agricultural production. Land tenure is closely linked with daily survival. Land is a productive asset to fall back on in times of crisis. In the event of divorce or widowhood, land is also a form of security, especially in the absence of measures for social protection. Control over land is a very delicate and volatile issue. In many countries, land disputes are the largest source of conflict at the household and community level.
The vast majority of women in Africa cannot afford to purchase land. While land is valued primarily as an economic resource, it is also a symbol of social status, power, and identity. In many countries, women’s relationship with land is directly linked to their relationship with men. They are viewed as dependent mothers, wives or daughters. In this context, a woman who pursues a land claim risks alienating male relatives. This can undermine her social support system. A lack of formal land entitlement can leave widows and divorcees in a precarious position. In many communities, women are not permitted to farm the husband’s family land.
Research conducted by the Université Gaston Berger de Saint-Louis in Senegal found that women’s insufficient knowledge of laws and rights reinforces gender inequalities in access to land. Women are especially vulnerable when they do not know what steps to take in cases of land conflict. Their rights are often abused. Women in ethnic minorities are at greater risk of being denied their land rights. They are considered strangers within a community and are often discriminated against in the process of land distribution.
Farm Radio International has produced a number of scripts on gender. For example:
Promote Gender Equality and Empower Women (Package 78, Script 3, July 2006)http://farmradio.org/english/radio-scripts/78-3script_en.asp
Women, Property and Inheritance (Package 73, Script 4, January 2005) http://farmradio.org/english/radio-scripts/73-4script_en.asp
Women produce most of our food (Package 70, Script 1, March 2004) http://farmradio.org/english/radio-scripts/70-1script_en.asp
Land Ownership Rights: Access Denied – Why Women Need Equal Access to Land (Package 57, Script 9, October 2000) http://farmradio.org/english/radio-scripts/57-9script_en.asp
Farm Radio Weekly has published news stories about women and access to land:
South Africa: Women farm workers say ‘no justice, no vote’ (Issue 62, April 2009) http://weekly.farmradio.org/2009/04/20/south-africa-women-farm-workers-say-%E2%80%98no-justice-no-vote%E2%80%99-inter-press-service/
Kenya: New National Land Policy would mark important step for women’s rights (Issue 77, August 2009)
Africa: Women fight for equal land rights (Issue 50, January 2009 http://weekly.farmradio.org/2009/01/05/africa-women-fight-for-equal-land-rights-inter-press-service-international-herald-tribune-afrique-renouveau/
Senegal: Rural women demand improved access to farmland (Issue 91, December 2009) http://weekly.farmradio.org/2009/12/07/2-senegal-rural-women-demand-improved-access-to-farmland-ips/
You may wish to produce a call-in or text-in show and ask callers the following questions regarding women’s land rights:
– Is it common for women to own land in your community or region? Do you know women who have been denied access to land?
-Are land laws widely understood? Where can women find up to date information about land law? How do customary laws and practice differ from national law? How do these differences affect women?
-What can women do if they are at risk of losing access to land? Where can they turn for help, legal advice or financial support?