Ghana: Strong customary laws prove a blessing for women (by Pius Sawa, for Farm Radio Weekly in Kenya)

| November 8, 2010

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Women in northern Ghana have reason to smile. They now know they have the right to acquire land and enjoy lifetime ownership. Before March 2010, women did not know that customary laws actually allowed them to acquire land.

Land in Ghana is communally owned. It is available to anyone who goes through the customary process. Traditional chiefs are the governors and custodians of land.

The Grassroots Sisterhood Foundation is a local organization working to raise awareness about land rights. The Foundation trains women on land and inheritance rights. They carry out land-mapping exercises and consult with traditional authorities. The women form networks and key partnerships. These activities raise awareness and initiate change.

Fati Alhassan is the Executive Director of the Grassroots Sisterhood Foundation. She explains, “Security of tenure for women is a customary issue that had been overlooked for many years. But when the mapping started, some of the customary issues were revealed to us.” She says some chiefs were surprised when women started asking for land after consulting customary law.

So far, seven groups of women have acquired 120 hectares of land in northern Ghana. They are now cultivating this land. They plant their own crops, rear livestock and farm the land as a group without fear of losing ownership. The number of women in the groups ranges from 75 to 175.

To acquire land under customary law, a woman must find virgin land and clear it for cultivation. This is called First in time first in right. According to customary law, the land is totally free.

Previously, chiefs had taken advantage of the women’s ignorance of this law. They gave them land which was already cleared. Such land could be taken away at any time, leaving the women with nothing.

Ms. Alhassan explains that when the land acquired through customary law contains mineral resources like oil or gold, the government expropriates the land and compensates the owner. This was another issue that people did not understand well. The Grassroots Sisterhood Foundation is now educating families on how to claim adequate compensation for any investment made in the land before expropriation.

The Grassroots Sisterhood Foundation is carrying out its program of sensitization in northern Ghana. But Ms. Alhassan is optimistic that five years from now, all women in Ghana will be fully aware of their rights to free and lifetime land ownership. She believes this will increase the country’s agricultural production.

Researchers at the symposium gave their views on the key issues covered:

An audio file of four participants sharing their thoughts about why women’s right to land is important, can be heard here:

Click here for further Notes to broadcasters on the IDRC symposium.