Africa has a long and old tradition of patriarchy that women across the region have to battle against to secure real equality in accessing land. But women’s power received a boost this month following a successful Rural Women’s Assembly held in Windhoek, Namibia.
Over a hundred women from Southern Africa converged for the annual Assembly that is held parallel to the SADC Heads of State Summit, and is part of the SASPN People’s Summit.
The RWA women gathered on the first day at a centre in Khomasdal, and on the second day joined hundreds of other activists at the Windhoek Showgrounds, where they convened a seminar on women and land.
Basically, African patriarchy believes that women cannot own or manage land; that they should defer to men on how to use the land; and men only should have title ownership. Julius Nyere, the great father of Africa’s liberation, said, “Women are tillers of the land. They do not own,” as a delegate from Zimbabwe pointed out to the gathering. Even there, at the early stages of Africa’s liberation from colonialism, patriarchy ran deep.
She added: “We in Zimbabwe have a very good constitution. We have many sections supporting women’s access to economic resources and opportunities. There are sections also that speak of equality for women and advancing their rights. But when it comes to implementation, very little is done and it is very slow.”
She sketched the real obstacle facing women in her country, as well as the region. “The point is we are cultured in a patriarchal system. So those who are in charge of implementing for example, women’s equal access to land; are men who have been raised in a patriarchal system. They don’t believe in women accessing land; despite our constitution and laws and even strong civil society,” she said.
In Swaziland, it’s only recently that women have come by the right to own land.
“We have two types of land – title-deed land and Swazi customary land, which is supposedly owned by the King in trust to the nation,” explained delegate Ms Nonhlanhla …
“Previously, with title-deed land, even if you were married you could not register it in your name. It could only be in man’s name. But due to lobbying by many activists, this law is now changed and women can own land too,” …explained.
“But the customary land, Chiefs allocate that land to men. Women can’t access this land, unless she has a boy child. A women remains a minor,” she reported to the Assembly.
Similar testimonies were presented to the Assembly by delegates from Madagascar, Namibia, South Africa and Mozambique. The common thread in their testimonies was that land ownership remained largely in the hands of men, and traditional authorities in many instances determined who got land.
The RWA meeting developed a set of demands that was included with those submitted to SADC Heads of State by the broader People’s Summit gathering. The RWA demands called for:
- Re-instatement of the SADC tribunal.
- Women’s land rights and land control in their own right.
- Free movement of citizens in the regions.
- An end to corruption in the region especially the corruption of state officials/ government officials especially in land allocation and land grabs.
- A faster pace to land reform and redistribution
- An end to land grabs by multi-national corporations (MNCs)
- Enactment of progressive legislation in relation to the growing ecological crisis as we cannot demand land without water.
- Recognition of woman as producers. Governments should facilitate access to water, inputs , finance and technology.
- Women’s representation in all decision-making bodies.
- The Right to Say No to developments, MNCS dispossessions, and control over our bodies.