Women’s right to land is necessary for community development

    | December 20, 2010

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    Notes to broadcaster

    Food security at the national level cannot be achieved unless it is realized at the household level. Across Africa, women provide the bulk of labour on farms. But they have little say on how land is used, and this affects food production in a big way.

    In September 2010, the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) hosted an international conference on women’s access to land in Nairobi. This script is based on a case shared in the conference. It highlights the successes women have achieved in the fight for their rights to land and property in Kenya. The script also recognizes the role of grassroots-led women’s organizations in community development. The efforts of these organizations are rarely highlighted. Usually, when people talk about who contributes to development, they look at what government has done and what donors are doing. But the work of grassroots women is not mentioned.

    The script also addresses gender inequality in land allocation, decision-making within the extended family, the place of women and children in land disputes, and the role of local government in protecting women and children from discrimination. You can adapt this script to your local situation by interviewing a local expert on food security and land rights or by profiling a successful case study in your area. Please keep in mind that this script talks about the situation in Kenya. Laws and customs around women and land rights vary from one African country to another. So, before producing a program on this topic, you will need to do some local research to identify the situation in your area.

    This script is based on actual interviews. You could use this script as inspiration to research and write a script on a similar topic in your area. Or you might choose to produce this script on your station, using voice actors to represent the speakers. If so, please make sure to tell your audience at the beginning of the program that the voices are those of actors, not the original people involved in the interviews.

    Signature tune (10 seconds), then down under presenter

    Presenter: Hello dear listener, and welcome to the program. This week we look at women’s property rights, and particularly at how discrimination in land ownership affects household food security and overall community development. We hear the story of a mother and her four children who are forced out of their home after the death of their husband and father. Stay with us.

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    Presenter: Let me welcome Ms. Zipporah Wanyama who has come to the studio to share her story of hope. Zipporah comes from Shibuye village in Kakamega East district, Western Kenya. You told me you were ejected from your home. What happened?

    Zipporah: Thank you for inviting me on this program. My husband died about one year ago after a short illness. After we buried him, his brothers moved into my house. They told me that now that their brother was dead, I had no right to continue staying in the compound. They took away chairs and seats and other property from the house.

    My husband was a primary school teacher. His brothers claimed his benefits from the Teachers Service Commission without even informing me that they had any plans to do so. By the time I realized it, the money had been paid to them. My husband owned two hectares of land which was registered under his name. I was denied this land because my children were girls.

    Presenter: How did all this affect you?

    Zipporah: I was really disturbed, and not just because of the actions of my husband’s family. Also, the people in my community who I thought would stand with me during this trying time while I was mourning my husband were silent while my extended family was persecuting me. I couldn’t eat or sleep much. I lost weight and I could not even care for my children. Another thing, my relationship with my husband’s family was not good. I didn’t know what they thought about me and my children. In my mind, I thought they supported the kind of treatment I received. So I went back to my parents’ home.

    Presenter: What happened to the children?

    Zipporah: I took them with me. There was no way I could leave them behind. They had already missed school for one month and they could not learn on empty stomachs. We had no food. My in-laws refused my request to grow maize on the family farm.

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    Presenter: Violet Shivutse is a member of GROOTS, a national movement of women-led grassroots organizations in Kenya. Welcome to the program, Mrs. Shivutse. Start by telling us why your organization intervened in Zipporah’s case.

    Mrs. Shivutse: Thank you. We were working as caregivers for people living with HIV and AIDS in Kakamega, Gatundu, Kendu Bay and other areas of Kenya where HIV prevalence was high. We realized that many women like Zipporah were not only suffering from HIV and AIDS, but that they had another problem. Whenever these women lost their spouses, they were chased away from homes and not allowed to inherit the property of their husbands.

    Presenter: Zipporah had been prevented by her in-laws from inheriting the property of her husband. What reasons were given for this?

    Mrs. Shivutse: There was no special reason. In most communities, when a husband dies, the woman is occupied with mourning and burial preparations. Burial requirements like permits are usually taken care of by the brothers-in-law. They also help the widow to get the necessary documents for succession, which recognize her relationship with her husband and certify that the land is legally hers. Unfortunately, they keep these documents instead of giving them to the widow.

    For example, in my community it is mandatory that the widow mourns for 40 days and goes through a cleansing ceremony. While the woman is still mourning in the home, the brother-in-law gets the death certificate and proceeds to claim any benefits.

    Presenter: Is it easy to acquire these documents?

    Mrs. Shivutse: The provincial administration was also to blame in this. They were giving the documents to anybody who claimed them. Corruption is also a major factor here. The person seeking the letter of succession would get it if he or she handed over some money.

    In some other cases, the woman may have no children or may have girl children only, who are not able to own land in the community.

    Presenter: What action did you take in this specific situation?

    Mrs. Shivutse: When we told GROOTS Kenya about the situation of this lady and many other women, they helped us to carry out an in-depth mapping exercise. This helped us to understand the issues that surround property inheritance, the response of various institutions, and the attitude of the community to these issues.

    With our findings, we convened a community feedback meeting to which we invited the chief, district officer and district commissioner. Zipporah gave a testimony in this meeting. She looked frail. No one could believe that she was the wife of the late teacher who everyone in the community knew was well-off.

    Presenter: What came out of this meeting?

    Mrs. Shivutse: The community resolved to form community land and property watchdog groups. These groups monitor how the provincial administration and land tribunal respond to cases of inheritance involving women. In this way, these institutions are held accountable. We invited the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Provincial Administration to one of these meetings and he helped us lay out a working strategy for the community watchdog groups. One of our strategies is to hold forums during which community members are informed of existing property and land rights. They are also told about harmful cultural beliefs that make women suffer.

    Presenter: What does the law say concerning inheritance of land and property for women and children?

    Mrs. Shivutse: In theory, both statutory and customary law recognizes the rights of a widow, as a dependent, to continue using land after her husband dies for as long as she lives. However, in an ever-growing number of cases, people no longer respect these rights. And the institutions responsible for enforcing them – such as chiefs and elders – are either unable or unwilling to do so.

    Presenter: So how was Zipporah protected?

    Mrs. Shivutse: Our intervention came a little bit late, but all was not lost. The money from the Teachers Service Commission was already squandered. But she managed to get back her land, house and household goods. She has since moved back to her home.

    Presenter: These efforts bore fruit and Zipporah Wanyama and her children are happy to be back to the place they once called home. It has been six months since they moved back to their home and already a lush crop of beans has flowered. In a month’s time, this family will once again enjoy a good meal from their land.

    Zipporah, what can we learn from your situation?

    Zipporah: That women have legal rights to inherit property in Kenya. Many women were able to learn from my situation. Already, a number of my friends have joint title deeds with their husbands. The community came to know that the law protects women and children when the husband and father dies. Though I was not able to recover everything my husband owned, I’m happy that the children and I have the land and house, which is good social security.

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    Presenter: There are many things that stand out about Zipporah’s experience. First of all, that discrimination against women can be successfully dealt with. Through community education, consultation, and raising awareness, negative attitudes about women can be discarded and women can claim their rightful place in the family and community. The success of grassroots women’s organizations like GROOTS Kenya tells us that women are equal partners in development, not just passive beneficiaries of development.

    That is all we have time for in today’s program. Until next week, same time, I’m your presenter ….………………… Bye bye.

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    Contributed by: John Cheburet, Producer, TOFRadio, Nairobi, Kenya.

    Reviewed by: Eileen Alma, Program Officer, Women’s Rights and Citizenship,
    International Development Research Centre (IDRC)

    Information sources

    GROOTS Kenya: http://www.groots.org/

    IDRC, Gendered Terrain: Women Rights and Access to Land in Africa – Conference Presentations, at http://www.idrc.ca/en/ev-158124-201-1-DO_TOPIC.html

    Program undertaken with the financial support of the Government of Canada provided through the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA)