Land rights key to up­lift­ing women

The Star Early Edition - - LETTERS - Tshepo Diale

AU­GUST af­fords South Africa an op­por­tu­nity to com­mem­o­rate and cel­e­brate its women.

The month re­minds us about the strug­gles of South African women dat­ing from the au­da­cious deeds wit­nessed at the Union Build­ings on Au­gust 9, 1956 when women stood un­shaken, hell-bent on re­sist­ing the pass laws of the apartheid regime.

Women’s land rights re­main one of the most im­por­tant sites of so­cial, po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic con­tes­ta­tion in post-colo­nial Africa.

Land is not only a source of food, em­ploy­ment and in­come; it also gives so­cial pres­tige and ac­cess to po­lit­i­cal power.

Land has long been recog­nised as the key to ad­vanc­ing the so­cio-eco­nomic rights and well-be­ing of women and their po­si­tion in so­ci­ety.

Yet ac­cess, con­trol and own­er­ship of land largely re­main the do­main of male priv­i­lege, en­trench­ing pa­tri­ar­chal struc­tures of power and con­trol over com­mu­nity re­sources, his­tory, cul­ture and tra­di­tion.

For the ma­jor­ity of women in Africa, ac­cess to land is linked to their re­la­tion­ship with a male fam­ily mem­ber and is for­feited if the re­la­tion­ship ends. Even where land re­form poli­cies in­clude gen­der equal­ity goals, th­ese tend to fade when it comes to im­ple­men­ta­tion.

The lack of se­ri­ous at­ten­tion to gen­der equal­ity re­in­forces the marginalised po­si­tion of women and un­der­mines main­stream­ing ef­forts to im­prove women’s rights. It also ham­pers, broadly speak­ing, strate­gies for eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment.

While civil so­ci­ety ad­vo­cacy and gov­ern­ment pro­grammes to re­form dis­par­i­ties in land-ten­ure regimes have re­moved some of the his­tor­i­cal le­gal bar­ri­ers, land re­mains an un­achiev­able as­pi­ra­tion for the ma­jor­ity of the ru­ral and ur­ban poor on the con­ti­nent.

Women’s prospects for so­cio-eco­nomic uplift­ment through se­cure ten­ure ap­pear par­tic­u­larly grim, even more so as the global de­mand for land for large-scale agriculture and min­ing in­creases land scarcity, fu­elling a rise in land prices and fierce com­pe­ti­tion for con­trol.

Fur­ther, the de facto ex­is­tence of a dual sys­tem of statu­tory law and in­dige­nous cus­tom­ary law in many coun­tries al­lows men to ma­noeu­vre from one to the other as it favours them.

The com­plex­ity of le­gal sys­tems nar­rows women’s ac­cess to jus­tice as they of­ten lack ba­sic knowl­edge about le­gal pro­ce­dures and their rights. Leg­isla­tive and in­sti­tu­tional re­forms also need to en­gage with cus­tom in or­der to de­con­struct and re-con­cep­tu­alise tra­di­tional no­tions of land ac­cess, con­trol and own­er­ship, with a view to in­ter­vene at points that will make the most dif­fer­ence for women.

De­spite the gen­dered na­ture of power re­la­tions, land rights is­sues are con­stantly ne­go­ti­ated, con­tested and re­sisted by af­fected women in var­i­ous ways. Beyond for­mal pol­icy pro­cesses, the ex­am­ples of women’s self-or­gan­ised re­sis­tance to land grabs and their strate­gies to thwart pa­tri­ar­chal forms of dis­pos­ses­sion offer pow­er­ful nar­ra­tives.

It re­mains largely the do­main of male priv­i­lege

Nkwe Es­tate, Pre­to­ria

SELF-SUF­FI­CIENT: Selina Mnisi, front, and her col­leagues on their farm. As a source of food, em­ploy­ment and in­come, land also gives so­cial pres­tige and ac­cess to po­lit­i­cal power, says the writer.

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