On this International Day of Rural Women, we the undersigned organisations, call on African governments to ensure that rural women are a central focus in the implementation of the newly adopted sustainable development goals, including by addressing the social and cultural factors which prevent their access, control and use of land.
Today, 15 October, marks the sixth International Day of Rural Women. The day was established by the United Nations (UN) in 2008 to recognise the critical role and contribution of rural women, in improving food security and eradicating poverty. In two days, we commemorate the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. This year, the two international days fall just weeks after 193 member states of the UN unanimously adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – a set of 17 goals with specific targets aimed at, among other things, addressing poverty and increasing economic growth and prosperity, while protecting the environment. Of the numerous targets, three of these –1.4, 2.3 and 5.a – specifically relate to women’s access to land.
Currently, most African countries are rural in nature and it is estimated that 75% – 90% of land is held under traditional rules, customs and practices. Most of these traditional rules, customs and practices mean rural women can only access land through their relationships to men as wives, daughters and sisters. Sadly, the majority of African rural women lose their rights to maternal family land when they move to join their husbands upon marriage, and lose access to marital land upon divorce or death of the husband.
Discriminatory rules, customs and practices have a negative impact not only on African rural women, but the entire African continent. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), rural women in sub-Saharan Africa produce most of the food in the region and yet, due to discrimination, they neither own nor have rights to the land they cultivate.[i] This has negative implications for basic food production and the eradication of poverty. Unequal land rights further reinforce women’s secondary status within the community, perpetuate poverty and foster power imbalances.
African governments have legally and morally bound themselves, through a number of international instruments and policy frameworks, produced by both the African Union and the UN, to safeguard the rights of rural women to land on an equal basis to men. In restricting these rights many African countries are breaking international law
A handful of countries in Africa have taken positive steps towards ending discrimination and protecting women’s land rights. For example, in the Constitution of Mozambique, women have equal rights to use and benefit from land and are joint owners of community title. Kenya’s new Constitution and land policy provides for joint ownership of marital property and equal succession rights for men and women.
However, despite these few positive steps, much more needs to be done. We, the undersigned organisations, call on African governments to ensure that rural women are not neglected in the implementation of the sustainable development goals and that these goals take into account human rights treaties entered into by the governments. Parliaments must act to ensure that laws guarantee women’s equal rights to access, use and control over land. Furthermore, courts must uphold basic principles of equality, including in relation to land rights for rural women.
To be effective, legislation and land reform policies should both focus on rural women’s right to the access, use and control of land, as well as the lack of knowledge, cultural and social factors that prevent rural women from obtaining secure rights to land. We therefore further call on governments to ensure such legislation and land reform policies are gender responsive and take into account women’s historically disadvantaged socio-economic position compared to men.
Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC)
Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA)
Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
Initiative for Gender Equality and Development in Africa (IGED Africa)
Action for Southern Africa (ACTSA)
Southern Africa SADC Gender Protocol Alliance
African women’s Development and Communications Network (FEMNET)
Association for Women, Law and Development (Associação, Mulher, Lei e Desenvolvimento, MULEIDE) – Mozambique
Pan African Positive Women’s Coalition-Zimbabwe (PAPWC-ZIM)
Echoes of Women in Africa Initiative (ECOWA) – Nigeria
Healing Hearts Widows Support Foundation – Nigeria
Women Advocates’ Research and Documentation Center (WARDC) – Nigeria
Namibia Women’s Health Network (NWHN) – Namibia
Empowered at Dusk Women’s Association (EADWA) – Uganda
Sonke Gender Justice – South Africa
Women and Law in Southern Africa, Lesotho (WLSA – Lesotho)
Zambia Land Alliance (ZLA) – Zambia
Legal Assistance Centre (LAC) – Namibia
Women and Law in Southern Africa, Zambia (WLSA – Zambia)
Foundation for Socio Economic Justice (FSEJ) – Swaziland
Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum – Zimbabwe
Women in Law and Development in Africa -West Africa Sub Regional Office (Wildaf – Wasro)
Federation of Women Lawyers, Lesotho (FIDA – Lesotho)
NGO Gender Co-ordination Network (NGOGCN) – Malawi
Women and Law in Southern Africa, Zimbabwe (WLSA – Zimbabwe)
For further information, contact:
Brigadier Siachitema, Women’s Land and Property Rights Lawyer, Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC); BrigadierS@salc.org.za, +2710 596 8538