By Deusdedit Ruhangriyo
In many parts of the world, Uganda inclusive, women’s rights to land and property are denied. The existing laws give women fewer or less secure rights than men, and inequitable and discriminatory attitudes and practices undermine them.
This leaves many women almost entirely dependent on the men for survival and vulnerable to violence, poverty, and food insecurity, particularly if widowed, divorced, single, or in marriages not formally recognized.
“As land resources are increasingly contested, these problems have worsened; particularly for rural women. Large-scale land acquisitions remove women farmers. Land degradation from desertification and climate change reduces the availability of fertile land for farming. Through all of this, women are often excluded from land negotiations because they lack official land titles,” says the Huairoru Commission whose slogan is Women, Homes and Community.
According to the Uganda Land Policy document, attempts to redress this situation by outlawing discriminatory cultures, customs and practices in land ownership, occupation and use and requiring spousal consent to transactions involving family land in the 1995 constitution and Land Act Cap 227, have not been active due to failure in implementation and enforcement.
However, these challenges have not stopped Jinja’s grassroots women from acquiring their rights to land ownership and development.
Challenges of women and land tenure in Jinja
According to the 2002 Housing and Population Census, 52% of Jinja town’s population is women. Despite women being the majority in this town, their access to land is inhibited by many conditions including traditional customary inequities combined with the patriarchal attitudes.
One study of the Jinja community in the 1990’s documents women’s complaints of ‘taking second place’ when applying for plots of land. The study also found that there are significantly different routes to land ownership between the genders with women often gifted property as a result of marriage or as a type of payback for unpaid household work, in contrast to the male path to ownership through birth right.
The Walukuba housing estate pain
The Walukuba housing estate was built in the early 1950’s originally to accommodate a class of Ugandan civil servants and industrial workers. The estate was privatized in 2007 with existing tenants given the option to purchase their house plots as 49 year households.
This process had long been debated and was seen by Jinja municipal council as a means to facilitate the upgrading of the increasingly dilapidated housing stock on the estate without incurring costs. The issue was also complicated by the fact that the shortage of relatively centrally located accommodation in Jinja meant that the rental contracts on the estate had procured quite considerable black market value (so called ‘good will’) which tenants were not willing to lose.
“At the time, many women did not have enough resources to directly purchase their houses, with some eventually defaulting on rent payment, resulting in Jinja Municipal land officials often evicting them,” says Joyce Rosemary Nangobi director of Jinja Slum Women’s Initiative for Development.
Formation of Slum Women’s Initiative for Development (SWID)
It is these evictions that led to a lot of suffering for women and their families that pushed a group of women in Jinja, under the leadership of Joyce Rosemary Nangobi, to form an organization called Slum Women’s Initiative for Development (SWID) in 2003, whose main aim was to fight for Jinja grassroots women’s rights to land, with a slogan – ‘an empowered community and a home for every woman.’
Since its formation, SWID has conducted extensive studies in targeted areas in Jinja which show how women have been marginalized. For example women could not apply for individual land titles in their names and as if that was not bad enough, most women were often unaware of their housing or land rights at community and national levels. SWID has also discovered that women had limited participation in decision making bodies on land tenure issues.
What has SWID done to help women acquire land rights?
“Programming at SWID aims at enhancing women’s control over land not only basing on the important role they play in agricultural production, but also because control of land is essential for women to live with dignity. Having women’s names on land title certificates not only protects them against relatives and in-laws who often grab their land but also enable them to have access to credit,” Nangobi says.
Although getting and developing land is still difficult, women in Jinja have come a long way around the original stumbling blocks, since they started working together and in partnership with benevolent organizations.
One of the most important initiatives by SWID which has been instrumental in helping women to access land in the community was to set up a revolving loan fund project that was launched in 2003.
“The project involves a cyclical or rotational borrowing strategy where by a cluster of members involved access a loan as a group, with their loan repayments, they lend out to another cluster. In other words, money borrowed by members is actually their savings which rotate around members in the form of loans to help improve the poor standing of the group. These loans are specifically aimed at securing land and housing as well as boosting individual businesses,” Nangobi adds.
It is also important to recognize however that the revolving loan fund had to overcome a number of major challenges, many of which still remain today. One of the most critical was the overwhelming number of women needing loans to boost their agro- or petty business or purchase land and commence housing construction.
This campaign entitled ‘The Road to Acquisition of Land, Tittles and Housing by Grassroots Women’ has been found to have resulted in a 9.1% increase among participants who were able to improve on their shelter.
A final accomplishment has been change at the individual level in terms of improving women’s sense of confidence, negotiating capacities, participation in community development forums and interaction with local authorities.
What have these slum women achieved so far?
About 120 women of SWID’s core group have benefited from the revolving loan fund and achieved security of land tenure therefore reducing eviction pressures and improving shelter. In addition another 12 women from another affiliate group of SWID have also benefited through acquisition of land for housing construction. And 81 members have been trained in land titling process.
To guard against trespassing disputes, the fund has also enabled the women to engage professional surveyors to demarcate the land so that each woman gets ownership as an individual.
Over 200 women have acquired loans that have allowed them to not only purchase land and start housing construction, but also to boost their businesses which have improved their general livelihoods.
With their newly acquired status as land ladies, the women have managed to improve their standing in the community, by living a better life in addition to paying school fees for their children. In fact 20 children of the SWID family members have graduated with degrees and diplomas which have improved the overall status of the family and the community.
And although challenges remain, SWID’s example and the successes its women have achieved, has won the respect and collaboration of men, who now agree to the principles of women officially owning or co-owning land.
“The women have also built some houses using interlocking blocks and developed big farms with the help of government, which has been providing seeds. Their next frontier is the use of machinery for improved farming,” Nangobi explains.
Another more recent initiative by SWID had the objective of increasing transparency and service delivery. The “Transparency and Accountability Initiative: Empowering Grassroots Women to Reduce Corruption and Strengthen Democratic Governance” came about as a result of a partnership between the Huairou Commission, (the grassroots Global network of networks) with UNDP’s Global thematic Program on Anti- corruption for Development Effectiveness (PACIDE).
The project was influenced by the results of the “Seeing Beyond the State” study in which SWID was one out of the 32 working groups that was mobilized to collect data to understand how corruption in specific sectors affect grassroots women.
This was done in five countries to raise awareness about corruption and to help map and monitor land titling, urbanization policies, sanitation, water, national identification document delivery and health budget implementation.
Women and land policy
Grassroots women in other parts of Uganda should emulate the example of Jinja Slum Women’s Initiative for Development and the support from national and continental land initiatives to obtain land rights.
“Uganda and the rest of Africa cannot afford to exclude half of its rural producers from access to an important production factor because it is not only undemocratic but also ant-economic,” Dr. Herbert Ouedraogo, a senior land expert at the Land Policy Initiative said.
The Land Policy Initiative is a joint programme of the tripartite consortium consisting of the African Union Commission (AUC), the African Development Bank (AfDB) and United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA). Its purpose is to enable the use of land to lend impetus to the process of African development.
Acknowledging the complexity and the sensitivity of the issue, Dr. Ouedraogo adds that the time is now to move women’s land rights from the private sphere of marriage to place it on the public domain of human rights.
“30% of land should be allocated by the state to women, 30% of women should have documented land rights and 30% of women should be in land professions by 2025,” he adds.
And with such good policies implemented, African Union Commissioner for Rural Economy and Agriculture, Rhoda Tumusiime, emphasizes that, Agriculture would then effectively lead to Africa’s (including Uganda’s) economic transformation, with the prime responsibility of providing employment opportunities for a rapidly growing and predominantly youth population, sustainable livelihoods and poverty reduction.
Uganda’s Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development has developed and put in place a National Land Policy.
a) Government shall by legislation, protect the right to inheritance and ownership of land for women and children.
b) Government shall ensure that both men and women enjoy equal rights to land before marriage, in marriage and after marriage and at succession without discrimination.
But the question is, are these good laws which have been put in place being implemented on the ground by all stakeholders including?
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Women’s rights to land and property still a myth