THE continued sidelining of women in terms of customary land ownership is worrisome, particularly given that constitutions in different countries in southern Africa, including Zimbabwe speak about advancing gender equality in land apportionment.
The role of women in agricultural production cannot be over emphasised, but they are rarely considered for land ownership whenever land is being parcelled out.
There is a whole gamut of pieces of legislation, other than the Constitution that recognise women’s customary land rights. These laws include the Communal Land Act which was amended in 2003, the Rural Land Act amended in 2002, the Traditional Leaders Act amended in 2001, the Administrative Court (Land Acquisition Rules of 1998 amended in 2005, and the Rural District Councils Act of 1988, which was last amended in 2002, among other policies.
But one wonders why in a country with several laws and a progressive Constitution that recognises gender equality, women are still struggling to acquire land yet they are very active in agricultural labour?
In 2000, the government launched the fast-track land reform policy, giving women a 20% quota of all acquired land, but to date a few women have benefitted from the programme.
The Utete Commission was then set up and recommended that a quota of at least 40% of land allocations in the country should benefit women, and another 40% quota of agricultural funding should also be reserved for women. These recommendations have also not been implemented as women continue to till family-owned land which is in the name of their husbands, or their first-born male children in the case of widows.
The situation seems to be the same in other Sadc countries such as Mozambique, Malawi and Lesotho where the laws are clearly in favour of women land ownership. However, there continues to be a mismatch in terms of the available laws and their implementation. This has resulted in continued marginalisation of women wanting to venture into farming.
A recent workshop for Southern African journalists by USAID, Internews and Advancing Rights in Southern Africa (IRISA) revealed gaps in customary land ownership for women and therefore, the need for countries in the region to revisit the protocols and declarations that they ratified to ensure that women’s land rights are respected.
Most African countries endorsed the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, the African Union Agenda 63, and protocols such as the Maputo Declaration, the Beijing Platform for Action (1995), the Sadc Gender and Development Declaration (1997) and the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW of 1979), which speak on gender equality and equity.
It now appears like our leaders have good policy documents at their disposal but are somehow reluctant to implement them for no clear reasons.