In October 2015, the African Union (AU) made a commitment to ensure that 30 percent of registered land is owned by women by 2025. This commitment can be seen as an important moment for the struggle of women’s land rights in Africa because it is the first time that the African Union has committed to a target to ensure that women’s land rights are secured through legislative reforms and other mechanisms. The RWA spoke to Marc Wegerif at the recent AU summit to hear his views on this target, its significance and the implications this may for rural women farmers in the region.
Marc Wegerif is an independent consultant working on land rights issues focusing particularly on women’s land rights.
Q: Can you please provide some background on what the 30% of registered land to women commitment is all about?
MW: It came out of the Specialized Technical Committee (STC) on Agriculture, Rural Development, Water and Environment. It’s an inter-ministerial meeting at the African Union level that deals with agriculture and land amongst other issues. They had a meeting in October last year and in that meeting one of the things they committed to was ensuring that at least 30% of registered land is going to women.
This is building on past work that goes back to the adoption of the framework and guidelines on land policy in Africa in 2009. It was adopted by the heads of state along with the declaration of land issues and challenges in Africa. In that declaration on land issues and challenges in Africa the heads of state agreed that they will do more to secure women’s land rights. The framework and guidelines also talks about challenges that women face including patriarchy and so on, which is negatively affecting women’s rights to land and natural resources.
So what we see is that the African Union in various places have been discussing land issues and women’s land issues. It is also good to recall the Maputo Protocol on Women’s rights, which is a protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights. That protocol has a number of clauses making commitments to improving women’s access to land and natural resources as a basis for development. The other significant African Union document is the Guiding Principles on Large Scale Land Based Investments that was agreed in 2014. It is important because of its attention to women’s rights and interests; fundamental principle four calls for any investments to explicitly benefit women.
Q: What is the significance of this commitment or target?
MW: So what becomes significant with the 30% is that it is the first time that a target is set. You have a lot of these agreements that say we will do more to improve women’s land rights and so on, but the 30% is the first time leaders have set a concrete target. I think that makes it a potential rallying point and something we can use to engage on how we can meet that commitment. The thing we have to be very careful about is that we stress it must be a minimum. Of course what we want is equity and equality in land access and rights. We have seen with things like minimum wages that they get treated as if they are a maximum rather than a minimum. I think whatever we are writing and saying about this must really emphasise that the 30% of land to women is a minimum which everyone should be working toward and meet.
While we need to emphasise that it is a minimum and should be seen as a starting point, I do think that the potential of it is that there is actually some commitment which we can start to measure and hold governments accountable to and there are a lot of implications to that.
We have highly unequal land rights and access which is negatively affecting women. It is the first time that we see a very concrete target, whereas we have had in the past broad commitments, but we haven’t seen concrete targets so that makes it an important opportunity. In the context where much more needs to be done to improve rural women’s situations particularly around rights and access to land. We are not seeing enough done and we don’t see enough sex segregated data. We have not seen enough targeting where one can see clearly that affirmative actions and resources are being put into place to ensure that the outcomes are a gender equitable situation.
Why is this 30% of registered land commitment significant?
MW: I think it is significant because it targets outcomes. We have seen progress in the last decade in moving from a situation where we used to have many countries with explicitly sexist legislation and practices and now most countries have laws and constitutions that say people must be treated equally regardless of their gender.
Treating men and women equally in a patriarchal society often continues to perpetuate gender inequitable outcomes and that is where targets for outputs are important. It means that you have to put in place actions to overcome the obstacles women face, actions to overcome patriarchal power relations that continue to produce gender inequity. If we hold our governments to that and make sure they understand the full implications it can have an impact. One of the dangers is that they can simply go back and continue to make the very vague kind of reporting on what is happening. Governments will tell you the nice rhetoric of what policies they have put in place and they won’t tell you what the outcomes are. We have to push them to gather and have the sex disaggregated data available and to be transparent about what is really happening in the lives of women, especially rural women.
Q: What are the implications of offering a 30% minimum target?
MW: One of the important and first implications is that if governments are going to meet this commitment and claim to be committed to it, they have to gather and make available sex disaggregated statistical data on land rights. Once you start saying that we have to get women at least 30% of land then you have to start looking at the indicators and the mechanisms for measuring progress. To me that becomes one of the most interesting areas to work with, you start to say to governments, ‘you are committed to this where is your sexist aggregated data on the rights of women to land’. Many governments don’t have it. Any programmes if it is the department of rural development and land affairs in South Africa or it is in another country, or whether of it is a land tenure programme or a land redistribution programme, they must set targets for women’s participation and benefit. We have to ask, ’are they putting in place the mechanisms to achieve that and to measure that?’
We know these commitments don’t always translate into action, but it gives us some leverage to be saying, ‘you have made this commitment. Here are some of the clear steps you need to take to realise that commitment.’ It gives us a lot of leverage to push those kind of issues starting with the data and the time commitments and the allocation of resources for that. So that is why I see it having a certain power and potential.
Q: What are the implications of such a target for rural women farmers in the region?
MW: I think that the main thing is that it should give them some leverage in arguing for themselves that they be given stronger rights to land. They can make the demands referring to decisions that leaders have agreed to. Also we believe that this should be ratified and given more attention by the AU Heads of State meeting. So that is also something to push for and make sure that it gets ratified and that at a national level this issue gets taken up.
In many cases we see women still having far weaker rights to less land. So that gives us some leverage to push for action and that can help and like I said it starts with asking the question: ‘is the data there? Is the targeting there? It gives us a good reason to say ‘to our governments, ‘you have made a very specific commitment so how do you measure that?’ We need to hold leaders accountable and ensure they act, it is easy for them to sit and make this statement, but action will be harder to achieve. It is up to us as civil society and when I say civil society I mean it broadly including the women’s movement. I want to be clear also it does not mean that we must be limiting the demands to the specific target of 30%. It is a minimum target. We must be clear on the difference between using something like this tactically, as leverage to try and push for progress, and remaining clear strategically; we know we have bigger objectives of rural transformation.
Q: Does the 30% of registered land contribute to a bigger picture of rural transformation and agrarian reform?
MW: It shouldn’t be seen as the bigger picture of what we are struggling for in relation to women’s rights and rural transformation. Something like this is one step, one piece, because also it doesn’t say anything qualitatively. There is a risk that women could have 30% of registered land and perhaps even consider that they have the same rights to land that men have or equivalent to that. But there could still be challenges, for example, if a country has a titling programme where it allocates 30% of land to women but they haven’t fixed something like problematic inheritance laws you might find that women still have weaker rights and more chance of losing land than their male counterparts. We have to also link this to demands around the provision of other services to rural women. If women have 30% or 50% of land, they should also have 30% or 50% of the support services, the credit, the research on the crops that matter to them.
So we have to push the boundaries of that and make sure that qualitatively it is meaningful to women and like I stressed before, this is a minimum standard. I think its implementation can mean more access to land and natural resources for women than they currently have. It can be critical as a base for their development and control of land.
So that is one level and the other level of what is means is that it should be used by women for them to be able to go to leaders and engage with leaders about land rights programmes and use that 30% commitment to argue for greater attention to women’s land rights.