Regional body promotes women’s land rights

In many African countries women are major producers of food and the ones who sustain households and communities – but they remain poor and voiceless, reports PAMENUS TUSO.

The lives of many rural women in the SADC region have greatly improved following the launch of Rural Women’s Assembly (RWA), a regional network of rural women.

RWA was formed in 2009 in South Africa by a group of women’s organisations in order to create conditions for rural women to become visible and work together.

Some of the lead organisations involved were the Zimbabwe Organic Farmers Forum, National Union of small farmers of Namibia, National Association of Small Farmers of Malawi, National Union of Peasants of Mozambique and the Land Access Movement of South Africa.

Poor and voiceless

“In many African countries women are major producers of food and the ones who sustain households and communities, yet their role is not always recognised. Despite all their efforts, women remain poor and voiceless,” said Mercia Andrews, the convenor of the South African branch.

She said the increasing vulnerability of women in the region and the continuing failure by African governments to uplift the lives of women had forced women to form RWA to deal with their issues as well as give them visibility to their demands and interests .

In 1997 SADC member states, through the Declaration on Gender and Development, made a commitment to mainstream gender in all SADC activities and promote women’s full access to and control over productive resources such as land, livestock, markets, credit, modern technology, formal employment and a good quality of life.

Paper policies

Andrews said AU and SADC’s commitments to gender equality must be implemented fully and not result only in paper policies and paper rights.

“Rural women still face many constraints and problems. For example, as far as land ownership is concerned, women’s rights to land are usually limited by cultural practices. Women also do not have power to influence agriculture policy decisions’’ she said.

In order to improve women’s livelihoods the organisation has initiated numerous programmes meant to benefit the home market, organically linked to agriculture and manufacturing industries.

‘’We fight for women’s livelihoods through empowerment training programmes in leadership and agriculture. Throughout the region, we have been promoting agriculture production based on agro ecology , an alternative based on local solutions using local inputs such as seed , organic manure , mulching and natural pest management which is labour absorbing and affordable,’’ said Andrews .

Threats

“We are advocating for alternative, safe farming methods. These methods must be shared and promoted by farmers themselves. We are also opening the eyes of farmers so that they can see and raise awareness on the threats posed to African agriculture,” she said.

Cristina Sevene from Forum Mulher in Mozambique thanked RWA for teaching her and other members from the forum about land rights.

Cristina Sevene
Cristina Sevene

“Before RWA come to our assistance, our rights to land ownership were mediated through our husbands or any other male relatives such as fathers. Now we can proudly own land in our names,” said Sevene.

Indigenous seeds

RWA had also taught them about the value and importance of indigenous seeds she said. “Use of traditional farming methods such as organic manure has done wonders at my plot. I grow vegetables, herbs and corn. Most people in my country are now shunning farm produce grown from transgenic seeds (GMOs) because of health reasons” she said.

Norah Mlondobozi from South Africa said RWA had given her a voice to reclaim her lost status in the family and community.

“Before joining RWA, my husband used to have the final say on anything concerning our family. Now I do have power to influence decision making not only in my family but even in my church as well,” said Mlondobozi.

Like Sevene, Mlondobozi is practicing traditional farming methods at her communal piece of land. Rukweza community in Nyazura has seen great improvement in their lives following the launch of RWA by the Women and Land in Zimbabwe with the support from Norwegian People’s Aid.

Land rights

“We used to live in complete poverty. We were suffering, every now and then abused and divorced by our husbands,” said Tracy Rambanepasi. With the support of RWA and Women and Land in Zimbabwe she said they had been taught about land rights and how to build and strengthen popular farmers’ associations at village level.

Zimbabwe Rural Women’s Assembly was launched in October last year. Rural women in Southern Africa are some of the poorest in the world, facing various challenges like land grabs, lack of support for agriculture production and the challenge of HIVAIDS pandemic.

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