Attending the highly attended Agricultural Investment, Gender and Land in Africa (AIGLIA) March 2014 Conference held in Cape Town, South Africa was highly insightful to my perspective on the role of women in the agricultural sector. One of the main objectives of the conference was to build a common understanding of why gender is an important facet when dealing with agriculture and to discuss ways in which gender-sensitive policies in agriculture are created and implemented.
Honourable Ambassador Getrude Mongella (Mama Mongella), first President of the Pan African Parliament gave the key note address calling for a review of the management system of land needs in Africa so as to avert the risk of marginalizing both men and women. Marginalization of women has been of great concern globally over the past few decades and is clearly stipulated in Mama Mongella’s statement “Women are just invitees to the planet…It is only during the reproductive process that people remember that there is men and women”. Whilst 80% of agricultural labourers in the region consist of women, women, in particular widows and women-headed households tend to be denied or assigned weaker land rights. This, I believe, has left women amongst the most vulnerable people in society. Most countries talk about democracy but what is democracy that is not inclusive as highlighted by the cases cited in Table 1. “Let us not talk about democracy and yet our constitutions still do not fully protect the rights of women” (Mama Mongella). What type of democracy is it without women when women constitute a greater population of the nation, and yet women are the main labourers in agriculture, consequently having a crucial role to increase a nation’s food security? There is clear marginalization of women in agricultural investments so it is my belief that through strengthening their rights to land not only will gender inequality but as well as food security issues will be addressed. It is crucial that African countries start to ensure that women are the centre of the agricultural revolution in Africa because they are the road to food security and poverty reduction.
Box 1: Cases of Women and Land Tenure Rights in Africa
• In Rwanda there are laws that guarantee women’s rights to land tenure but traditional practices discriminate women and consequently women are unable to own and customarily inherit land.
• In Kenya there is lack of knowledge on statutory and customary rights and a highly limited capacity of local institutions have led to a lot of land disputes that disproportionately affect women.
• In Niger, farming has been ‘defeminized’ due to the pressure on land, despite women’s land rights being protected by law and custom.
• In Mozambique, statutory land law is gender-equitable and has clear provisions on equal rights for men and women BUT under their customary law women obtain land right through their husbands or fathers as there is no mechanism established by the state to monitor compliance with the Constitution and Land Law.
In most Southern African countries customary land tenure systems prevail and in these women tend to have weaker but nonetheless protected rights. With the introduction of agricultural investments and large scale land investments, the rights to land to the locals are being reduced. If men’s rights are threatened, consequently the rights to tenure of women are close to non-existent. In light of large scale acquisitions it would seem to me that the assumed customary land rights of men and women rest of a weak legal foundation. It would seem to me that in Southern Africa that athere are no clear institutional structures backed by the constituntions and legal instruments to protect the land rights of both men and women. This is a wider and bigger problem that needs to be redressed.
In order to move ahead towards protecting the rights of both men and women. Land tenure is a fundamental instrument for land administration. However, the land administrative systems have tended to recognize the rights of men over women and therefore I recommend that is co-registration of spousal rights and recognition of women’s inheritance rights be guaranteed in legal instruments as well as in the constitution. However, when it comes to agricultural investments in Africa land tenure issues are put aside at the expedience of broader economic goals at a national scale. Therefore, small holder farmers are at high risk from potential displacement. At the conference the investment Matrix highlighted that only 1.7% of projected production incomes are realized in agricultural investments done in Africa. From this locals are being marginalized and this does not exclude women. Where men are the main leaders, the decision makers and the key decision makers of most investment agreements their decisions have ripple effects on the communities and, more so, on the lives of women. In this regard Mama Mongella warns men of the investment agreements that they make especially those that are not inclusive as she says “Men in Africa, if you are not careful we will all be in the same basket, as labourers though you will be the labourer of a higher class.”
Mama Mongella highlighted most African men, who are currently or have previously been in leadership, went to school because their mothers were farmers. That being the case, who remembers the names of these smallholder women farmers who are behind the success of the leaders of our countries? Which policies are in place to ensure that there is the increased empowerment of these women? What are those in leadership (put in these positions as a result of the sweat of their farming mothers) doing to empower women like their mothers, like their grandmothers? Why are land tenure systems in Africa still highly patriarchal and yet there is an increased number of single mothers, widows or grandmother headed households?Shouldn’t women not be empowered to hold high positions in the farming sector? For as indicated by Mama Mongella, “You do not need a certificate or doctorate to go farm”?I am thus in agreement with the overarching message from the conference that being the largest investors in agriculture, it is time that in agriculture and land investments, the role of female smallholder farmers and their needs should not be undermined. It is time that they are remembered in all decision making processes, in all policies created, it is time that their voices and roles are widely recognized but mostly it is time they are put in the forefront!In short, my suggested way forward is, women’s access to land is not a privilege but a right thus there is need for all agricultural/land investments to be gender sensitive. All investments should accommodate for women’s needs through effective investment designs that allow targeted actions that lead to women empowerment at all levels especially the grassroots level. National investment policies should not only be gender sensitive but should ensure that investors must adopt explicit gender policies and take proactive steps to ensure that the investors help to overcome rather than reinforce pre-existing gender inequalities. Various stakeholder need to be actively involved in the capacity building through knowledge dissemination and skills training, legal assistance and advocacy for women. Conclusively women should be given a voice at cross-sectoral levels to enable them to speak for themselves and be able to play an active role in ensuring harmonized agricultural advancement within the nation. This is the exciting work that I am doing at Ruzivo Trust & networks around the Southern African Region, that probably the situation will one day change in favour of women in the future.