Nelly Bassily | April 7, 2008
In Catherine Chukwuma’s community, tradition dictates that women cannot own land. According to traditional beliefs, women belong to their fathers or husbands – therefore they have no right to property of their own. This tradition devastated Mrs. Chukwuma when her husband died and her husband’s brothers took over her family’s land.
Throughout her marriage, Mrs. Chukwuma worked the small fields in the Ogbaku community of Imo State, in southeastern Nigeria. The family’s entire livelihood depended on the cassava they produced. But when she became a widow, Mrs. Chukwuma lost the ability to support herself and her three children. Her male children may have a chance to obtain some of the land when they are older – but for four years, she relied on family and neighbours for food. She had no means to pay the children’s school fees. Her fortunes finally changed when she was connected with the Dynamic Women’s Group.
The Dynamic Women’s Group was formed by married and widowed women determined to improve the livelihoods of women farmers in their community. Their primary concern was traditional practices that are out of step with state laws that provide women with “equality under the law.” When the group heard of Mrs. Chukwuma’s situation, they decided to take it to the traditional council. The council heard about how the loss of land following her husband’s death had hurt her and her children. The council decided to overturn the harmful tradition in this case, and Mrs. Chukwuma got some of her land back.
Mrs. Ugorji Ogechi is a lawyer and leader of the Dynamic Women’s Group. She said that the abuse of women’s land rights motivated her and other community women to form the organization. Since 2002, the organization has been improving women farmers’ lives by working with traditional and constitutional authorities. In cases of injustice, it seeks to apply dialogue rather than protest and demonstration. This approach has made Mrs. Ogechi and the Dynamic Women’s Group a force for women’s rights in the Ogbaku community.
Apart from its work through government and legal systems, the association has many other programs to support women farmers. The Dynamic Women’s Group helps widows with little farmland to rent additional land during the farming season. Widows and other disadvantaged women farmers are also supported to access cassava stems for planting. The group also reaches out to disadvantaged adolescent girls, helping them to obtain formal education and skills training.