She has dreamed about it for years, and now it is a reality. Kayentié Ido now farms her own land in the village of Niessan, in central western Burkina Faso. A few months ago, she gained ownership of her two hectares of land. In an unprecedented move, she was given outright ownership of the land by her husband, David Tamain Nignan.
Mrs. Ido, in her forties, is the spokesperson for the women of Niessan. Like most women in her village, she used to be able to grow vegetables only in her husband’s field.
But this did not satisfy her. Mrs. Ido explains: “The world has changed … small plots are not enough for women. By having their own land, women can help their men with the family’s needs, and with the children’s education.”
Fortunately for Burkina women, a 2009 law recognizes their right to land as being equal to men. Pierre Ouedraogo is the Executive Secretary of Groupe de recherche et d’action sur le foncier, or GRAF, a land rights organization. He says: “There is a long way between a law being passed and it being applied. In the countryside, is it possible for very conservative minds to accept such a change, especially on the controversial, even taboo, issue of rural women’s access to land?”
To investigate whether people would accept the change, GRAF initiated a pilot project in two villages, Niessan and Panassin, in collaboration with the town of Cassou. The project surveyed those recognized as landowners by local customs in the two villages. It also aimed to raise awareness about the new law and to negotiate the temporary or permanent transfer of land to women who want it.
Fatoumata Tall is a lawyer and a member of the project’s negotiating team. She says: “Firstly, we involved ourselves with activities which informed villagers about both the law and the project, and then we worked with men and women separately, to see how women would be able to obtain land.”
The seventy customary land owners who were surveyed agreed to permanently transfer parcels of land ranging from one to more than five hectares to 164 women – their wives, sisters, daughters and daughters-in-law. These women are now waiting for their certificates of land ownership to be issued by the Land Agency in Cassou.
Although reluctant at first, some of the men are already looking forward to changes for the better. Babou Nignan is a farmer from Niessan. He says: “Since I gave two hectares to each of my two wives, I find they leave for the field earlier than before.” He is now convinced that the family will benefit financially when his wives have their own land. He explains, “One of my wives has already sold two bags of groundnuts for 30,000 Central African francs [$62 US].”
Some men had argued that women would not be able to cultivate large areas, and therefore there was no need to give them land. But, determined to prove their husbands wrong, some women even went to work in nearby logging camps to earn a little money to help them better manage their fields.
Mrs. Ido says, “Today we want to show the men that the land that we have demanded can be really productive.”