Traditional leaders support land for women

For many years Lucia Makawa, 43, has been deprived of the right to land of her own due to cultural practices.

Lucia Makawa at her new piece of land.
Lucia Makawa at her new piece of land.

This widowed mother of five children has been looked down upon and ill-treated as she tried to voice her concerns about the issue of owning land. But she and other women in Mutare district are now able to access justice on land ownership issues after receiving training in gender and human rights issues from the Women’s Resources Foundation (WRF) .

The training is ongoing in all the districts in Manicaland province and courses have already been held in Nyanga, Buhera and Mutare districts. In an interview with The Zimbabwean the foundation’s programmes officer, Lena Murembwe, said women were struggling to fight for the recognition of their rights.

“We are therefore training women to know their rights. We have encouraged them to form groups in their various wards to understand and claim their rights,” she said. “We have realized that many women are deprived of the right to own land due to cultural practices.”

The foundation plans to continue holding the trainings nationwide. In areas where the trainings have been held women have successfully lobbied with the traditional chiefs for their rights to be recognized, added Murembwe. “For these women, knowledge on rights has increased. They now more aware of issues that were affecting their communities and needed redress,” she said.

With support from WRF, the women managed to summon the traditional leadership in the village to address some of the problems they were facing.

“As women we were not even allowed to own a piece of land. But with support from WRF, we have managed to mobilise the support of the chiefs and we have helped solve cases where women were deprived of their right to own land,” said Makawa, who now owns six hectares of land. “Now I have my own land and I am in the process of sourcing materials to start building structures. I also have enough space to do my farming.”

Maria Katenha, who also attended the training, said: “I was having problems in my family especially land ownership. The training helped me to know about my rights to own ownership. I have managed to discuss with my family using the knowledge and information I acquired during the training and I am happy that we have finally solved the problems.”

She now owns enough land to ensure her survival and that of her family. “I am now able to do my farming. I plan to go into full time farming on this land,” she said.

Another beneficiary of the programme is Beulah Muchabveyo. “In the past my husband was not treating me as a person at all. He was abusive and never helped with farming work but expected me to give him money after selling our produce,” she said.

“Things are now different in my family after I underwent training in gender and human rights. The training has also given us a platform to meet and discuss issues affecting our lives as women.” As the women are celebrating their recent successes in claiming their rights, Murembwe said it was not easy to change the cultural beliefs and foster understanding and respect for rights because of low literacy levels.

Lena Murembwe - We are therefore conducting trainings on women to know their rights.
Lena Murembwe – We are therefore conducting trainings on women to know their rights.

“It was difficult to convince people, especially the husbands, to respect human rights in the first place but we have worked so hard and things are changing at last,” she said.

Traditional leaders in the district welcomed the development and said they would support the initiative. Headman Francis Matika of Matika village said: “Times are moving forward. Women should be given space to exercise their rights. In fact this will benefit us all as communities.”

Headman Moses Chishakwe of Chishakwe village said: “I have been supporting them (WRF) to hold meetings in my area. This is a development that we believe will bring development in my area. Many women are now owning land and we have noticed that many of them are doing very well and are producing abundantly in their fields. This is good for them and others in the community.”

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