admin | February 20, 2017
Aminata Berthé waters a plot of lettuce on her farm in a village near Bamako, the capital of Mali. Dressed in a long white tunic, she says, “I am the first one in my home to wake up and the last to go to bed.”
She has been farming this land for three years as part of a women’s vegetable co-operative, but doesn’t have the right to own the land. She explains, “The land we’re farming belongs to the husband of one of the co-operative members.”
In Malian society, men hold primary rights of access to and control over land and decide which parts, if any, women are allowed to farm. The worsening climate, with unpredictable rainfall and prolonged droughts, has increased competition for land, leading men to encroach on farmland traditionally used by women.
But change is afoot. This year, the government could pass a new law that would set aside a share of government-managed land for women to farm.
Siriman Sakho is a rural development specialist with a group that represents Malian farmers. He says the proposed law has been discussed with farmers’ groups, including the National Federation of Rural Women in Mali.
He says the new law would give women access to 10% of government-managed land, for an annual fee of 65,000 CFA [$105 US] each. The remainder of government land would continue to be farmed by both men and women.
Under the Malian Family Code, women are required to obey their husbands, who are considered to be the head of the household. Mr. Sakho says, “This means women can lose the land they are farming on if their husband, brother, or father decides to sell the family’s farm.”
Bakary Togola is the head of a farmer group that supports the proposed law. He says, “As climate is changing, agriculture needs to change too…. How can we improve our yields when most farmers—women—don’t have the right to own land?”
Oumou Bah is the minister for the promotion of women, children, and families. She agrees with Mr. Togola. At an event in Bamako in December, she said that giving women access to land would improve not just their living conditions, but the country’s economy, as it would give a large part of the labour force more financial independence.
She says: “Improving women’s access to land will allow them to produce a greater variety of crops like okra and tomatoes, in addition to staple crops which they typically produce on their husbands’ land—like cereal.”
Mrs. Bah adds that growing a wider variety of foods could diversify diets and help tackle malnutrition.
Mr. Sakho says the proposed law is likely to be passed, as religious groups have no control over public land. He adds, “The daily presence of government representatives monitoring the land will dissuade men from encroaching on it.”
Ousmane Touré is a sociologist in Bamako. He says the new law won’t change how families manage their own land. He points to a reform of the Family Code, proposed in 2009, that was designed to change how inheritance and the age of marriage were regulated, among other things. The reforms were opposed by Islamic groups and ultimately passed, but without any improvement to women’s rights. He adds, “If the law again tries to touch family land, it is doomed to fail.”
In the meantime, Mrs. Berthé and her fellow women farmers hope to carry on farming—with the landowner’s permission. “But,” she adds, “We may have to abandon the land if the landlord decides to sell it.”
This article is based on a story from Trust, titled “New law a glimmer of hope for women’s land rights in Mali.” To read the full story, go to: http://news.trust.org/item/20170130105205-ni408
Photo: Women harvest lettuce in Katibougou, Mali, December 18, 2016. Credit: TRF/Soumaila Diarra