When a woman has legal access to and control over land and its profits, she improves her own life and that of her family. In order for this to happen, equitable laws, policies, systems and customs that promote and support women’s land ownership must be put into effect.
International land reforms in recent years have included gender-related, progressive approaches to land administration. Laws and policies protecting women’s land rights have been enacted in efforts to reduce gender inequalities concerning land and property rights. For instance, in 2015, the African Union (AU) Specialized Technical Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development, Water, and Environment, adopted a recommendation that member states move towards allocation of 30% of land to women through legislation and other mechanisms.
The Government of Zambia took a step further in 2017 when President Edgar Lungu directed that women should be allocated 50% of land and should be given the opportunity to own land without being subjected to harsh conditions. However, Zambian women continue to face barriers to land ownership.
One woman, Rebecca Namukonda, has struggled to acquire land for herself and her family. A 37-year-old, divorced single mother of five, Rebecca has faced barriers such as lack of finances, low level of education, social-cultural and patriarchal norms. “I have been trying to get a plot for years, but I always have to put that on hold because I am a single mother and a divorcee who gets no support from my ex-husband. I need to take care of my children's education and needs,” she laments.
Rebecca explains that the process to acquire land is difficult right from the onset, which leaves many women vulnerable to being duped by unscrupulous people who prey on their desperation. “I was once duped by cadres who said they had land going for k2 000. It was difficult for me, but I managed to save k1 500 and pay for that land, I have not seen or heard anything from them since.”
To improve these statistics and ensure that women like Rebecca have access to land ownership, a holistic approach is needed. According to the article Land Governance, Gender Equality and Development: Past Achievements and Remaining Challenges, women's land rights not only depend on land legislation, but also on addressing family law, particularly laws that regulate marriage and inheritance. The aforementioned article stresses that efforts to promote gender equality with respect to land tenure through land governance reforms must be accompanied by similar efforts with respect to statutory as well as customary family law.
Zambia Land Alliance, a mother body of NGOs working for pro-poor land rights and justice in land policies since the 1990s acknowledges that the Zambian government has m0ade significant strides in streamlining gender in land issues but more needs to be done. The Executive Director, Patrick Musole, however emphasised that enacting policies, laws and giving directives is only one piece in the machinery driving change.
Mr. Musole argues that affirmative action needs to be taken to address the underlying barriers women face in land ownership to increase the number of women with access to and control over land in Zambia.
“The setting of targets is only the beginning in meeting gender parity in land ownership. Measures such as nullifying the legally required time frame of about 18 months to develop land should be enacted. Most importantly, reducing or waiving of fees for women in the land acquisition process must be put in place".
Sensitizing and educating women on their land rights in efforts to change their mindsets on land ownership is a measure Medici Land Governance has made a priority under the National Land TItling Programme.
Land tenure is foundational to social and economic development. Secure land and property rights must be accessible to both women and men, to increase their assets and enable them to reach their full potential. The question remains: is enough being done to ensure that Zambian women – and especially vulnerable women like Rebecca – are not left behind?