Most women especially in the rural areas are farmers, making agriculture a women dominated industry but they do not own most of the farms, writes Tsoaledi Thobejane
THE past weeks have seen dramatic political changes in Zimbabwe. The president of the country, Robert Gabriel Mugabe was asked by the people of the country as well as the army, to resign from his post.
He respected the will of the majority and has since stepped down to give his former ally, Mr. Munagagwa, the reigns as the new President-elect.
While this is viewed as having the potential to usher in a new era full of promises, we are also mindful of the fact that there are still some economic challenges that continue to plaque the country. Uppermost to these is the question of land.
We are all in agreement that land is the basis of wealth in any country. We are also aware that women all over the world continue to face challenges of entitlement to land.
The political, economic and social structures are gendered and only working to the advantage of men at the expense of women when it comes to land ownership.
There is a need for them to be included in decision making bodies regarding land and the establishment of gender awareness programs on women’s land rights and empowerment.
Land is an important asset especially in Zimbabwe since it is an agricultural based country in terms of its economic survival.
Looking at the issue of land in this country and all its dynamics in the pre and post-colonial era, it has always been political and gendered. Women continue to lack access and control of land in spite of the campaigns by the civil society to include them in the economic mainstream.
Women in Zimbabwe constitute 52% of the population and 86% of those residing in rural areas, are dependent on land for their livelihoods and they provide 70% of all agricultural labor.
In Zimbabwe most women especially in the rural areas are farmers, making agriculture a women dominated industry but they do not own most of the farms.
One would expect that they would be considered as an integral part of the land acquisition in line with the policies of the “land grab” introduced by former President Mugabe some years back. But this is not yet the case.
It is evident that various socio-economic and political factors have contributed to the challenges to women’s access to ownership and control of land.
This gendered inequity in land allocation relates to a number of constraints faced by women in applying for land, including bureaucratic constraints, gender biases amongst the selection structures, which comprise mainly men, the lack of information on the process, and poor mobilization of women’s activist organizations around the issue of applications to land ownership, as well as Social practices and traditions in the country which have mainly worked for the benefit of men giving them the economic power to land entitlement at the expense of women. These problems continue to stalk South Africa as well.
Women’s entitlement to land, particularly in the rural areas is thus the most critical factor in women’s struggle for equality in gender relations and empowerment because without land women’s everyday survival, economic security, and physical safety are strained. It is not that Zimbabwe does not have Land policies and pieces of legislations designed for women and the land issue.
A closer look at the situation in the country shows that many of these pieces of legislation have not gone beyond mere rhetoric. There has been inconsistent implementation of these policies by the Government of Zimbabwe .
Women do not have rights to the land that they work on everyday. These unequal and unjust land ownership patterns has led to feminization of poverty and the disempowerment of women from society.
Lack of control to land has placed women on a subordinate position. This means that they are forced to depend on the male figure for economic survival and support.
This explains their manipulation starting from the private to public spheres where women do not have a voice and do not own the means of production and also do not have economic power to challenge the status quo.
Statistically only few women are in possession of land. For women, ownership of land and property can increase women’s status within their communities and increase their bargaining power within their households.
The physical well-being of women and their children depend significantly on whether they have direct access to income and productive assets such as land. Lack of land rights deprive women and girls the right to economic empowerment and their struggle for equity and equality.
It can be argued that patriarchy in most African countries including Zimbabwe has been seen as a contributory factor that limits women’s entitlement to land.
Patriarchy was first used by social scientists to describe a system of government where men held political power in their capacity as heads of households.
Patriarchy therefore is a social system whereby men dominate in all spheres of life.The system has worked in the favor of men all over the world as women became more subordinate.
The Zimbabwean constitution (section 3,13,17,26 and 76) provides for gender equality and equal access to land and other means of production. The constitution states that the state and all institutions and agencies of government must take practical measures to ensure women have access to resources, including land, on the basis of equality with men. However, this does not seem to be the case when one looks at the distribution patterns regarding land ownership.
In some cases, barriers to their entitlement to land is rooted in the lack of knowledge about the procedures involved in land claims.
The involvement of women’s organizations and other stakeholders is essential in leveling the plane field regarding land ownership. The United Nations and the African Union may be helpful in urging individual countries, including Zimbabwe, to promote gender equality and women’s right to own land as this can be one of the vehicles towards the empowerment of women.
It is hoped that as Zimbabwe strives to tackle issues relating to transformation, women will also be considered as they form the bastion of the agricultural economy in this country.
Tsoaledi Thobejane is Associate Professor and Head of Department within the Institute for Gender and Youth Studies at the University of Venda