admin | May 7, 2018
When an ethanol company first came to Qhelani Mahanya’s town in southeastern Zimbabwe to set up its biofuel project in 2008, Mrs. Mahanya says many in the region thought it would lead to greater development and employment opportunities.
Ten years on, she says, the company has only brought misery.
Mrs. Mahanya says villagers were not consulted when some of their land was allocated to the company for its project. Then, when plots were distributed to compensate farmers whose land had been given to the company, many women farmers—including her—were left out. As a result, she struggles to feed her two children.
She says: “Before the company came, we were able to plow our maize and provide food for our families and still have a bit extra to sell off. Now, we are just suffering…. If we try to plant anything, they [the company] plow down our crops.”
Groups that defend human rights say the company has continuously used land that was not part of its allocation, encroaching on land reserved for the community.
Claris Madhuku is director of the Platform of Youth Development, a local NGO. He says, “This is not new … and it’s clear that things were simply not done the proper way. This shows us that there are elements of land corruption at play.”
Transparency International is a global anti-corruption advocacy group. The organization published a report in March 2018 that says women farmers in sub-Saharan Africa are losing out in cases of land corruption. The organization’s research shows the problem is widespread and disproportionately affects women like Mrs. Mahanya.
The report says that, while globally, one in five people report having paid a bribe for land services, the number is one in two in sub-Saharan Africa.
The Transparency International report says land corruption can include: officials taking bribes in exchange for services; companies appropriating land; communities maintaining discriminatory inheritance customs; and government support for such practices.
Women are more vulnerable to land corruption for a wide variety of reasons, including gender discrimination, poorer access to education and information, poverty, and vulnerability to sexual extortion. For example, 4% of women surveyed for the report said they had been asked for a sexual favour to resolve a land issue, or knew someone who had.
The report adds: “Women are particularly dependent on land across sub-Saharan Africa…. They make up the majority of the agricultural workforce and have fewer opportunities than men to earn an income by other means.”
Kate Muwoki is Transparency International’s regional advisor for southern Africa. She adds: “If women do own land, it is often of a lower quality and smaller size than that owned by men. Even where legislation exists to guarantee women’s equal land rights, there are often limits to its effectiveness.”
Several land rights organizations have found innovative ways to help women farmers gain more control over their land. Some are creating digital platforms for reporting land corruption, others are amplifying women’s voices through videos about land ownership, while still others are training paralegals to support women’s land rights.
The Ghana Integrity Initiative is the Ghana chapter of Transparency International. For the past two years, the group has trained people as paralegals, providing women with information, advice, and advocacy relating to land rights.
Michael Okai is Ghana Integrity Initiative’s project coordinator. He says: “Legal procedures are very complicated, lawsuits take a long time to conclude, and pursuing a case often requires the assistance of lawyers whose fees are too high for many of these women.”
Mr. Okai says the paralegal program has helped women become more aware of their land rights and how to fight for them.
He adds, “Issues which previously would have been swept under the carpet are now getting attention and being resolved.”
On the other side of the continent in Zimbabwe, Mrs. Muhanya is still holding out hope that her community will one day get justice.
She says, “I don’t know who can help us as we have been waiting for help since 2008…. But we need help as everyone is suffering.”
This story is adapted from an article titled “Land Corruption Hits Women Farmers Hardest” published by News Deeply. To read the original article, please see: https://www.newsdeeply.com/womensadvancement/articles/2018/04/06/land-corruption-hits-women-farmers-hardest
To read the report from Transparency International titled “Women, Land and Corruption: Resources for practitioners and policy-makers,” please see: https://www.transparency.org/whatwedo/publication/women_land_and_corruption_resources_for_practitioners_and_policy_makers
Photo: Anna Paulo in her cabbage field in Langali village near Morogoro, Tanzania on May 28, 2014. Credit: Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation