Valerie Mukangerero (53 yrs) walks to her pineapple farm in Rwamurema village, Eastern Rwanda, Kirehe District. Credit: Aurelie Marrier d'Unienville / Oxfam

Valerie Mukangerero (53 yrs) walks to her pineapple farm in Rwamurema village, Eastern Rwanda, Kirehe District. Credit: Aurelie Marrier d'Unienville / Oxfam

Securing land rights for women: A critical pathway to realising gender equality in Africa

This week, the world commemorated the International Women’s Day, highlighting gender inequality and stressing the need to bridge the gap between men and women, girls and boys. Our screens were flooded with ceremonial statements reiterating commitment to accelerate women’s empowerment. I kept wondering if a woman can be empowered without ownership and control of the most vital asset – land.

This years’ commemoration under the theme – ‘I am Generation Equality: Realizing Women’s Rights’ took me back to a research trip to one of the remotest areas of Eastern Uganda in the early days of my career. I came face to face with the injustice inherent in Africa’s land tenure system. The story of Yapriwo Janet, a 57-year-old woman then, crossed my mind. Her narration of how she had been evicted out of the land she had called home for 30 years – even before she could heal from the loss of her husband of 35 years, vividly resounded in my mind.

Staying true to patriarchy, her late husband’s clan determined that she, together with her daughters would not be entitled to inherit their land because she had given birth only to girls. It didn’t matter how long the family had lived there or that the development on the land including the forest, and coffee and banana plantations, were largely as a result of her direct labour. This is not just about Yapriwo, it is also the reality of the many women whose land is taken away without free, prior and informed consent when a large-scale land-based investor comes knocking, often with tacit or direct support of government.

In Africa, land is an indispensable asset, yet, unnuanced, land belongs to men. This is despite women growing 70 percent of the food that feeds the continent. The World Bank estimates that just under 13 percent of African women claim sole ownership of land, compared to 36 percent of African men.

While African Heads of State and Government have in the past resolved to strengthen security of land tenure for women, unfair land use practices continue to undermine gains made towards realization of gender equality. Like Yapriwo, many women continue to be subjected to land injustice. The Malabo Declaration, Africa’s agricultural vision cites equitable access to land and secure land rights for women and vulnerable groups as critical to achieving Africa’s blue print on Agriculture. In a deeply unequal continent, the much-needed transformation will require much more than mere declarations.

Instead of the usual ceremonial statements issued at key world days and global forums, such as this week’s pronouncements by African leaders, realization of the Maputo Protocol - the most progressive African framework on women’s rights, and the African Union Declaration on Land Issues and Challenges, whose aim is to ensure our rural women have access, control and ownership of land and other natural resources can only be achieved if implementation matches policy. This requires leadership! Only then, will we see meaningful fulfilment of the Sustainable Development Goals and Agenda 2063.

Oxfam, together with our partners and allies across the continent will continue to support especially smallholder farmers, majority of them women, to amplify their voice and agency so that they hold their leaders and governments accountable to the commitments they have made. Yapriwo and many others like her, expect nothing short of justice.