Rural women everywhere play a key role in supporting their households and communities in achieving food and nutrition security. Through their contributions towards rural enterprises, they generate income, improve livelihoods and overall well-being. As such, they are active players in achieving sustainable development. Yet, every day, in Zimbabwe, rural women face persistent structural constraints that prevent them from fully enjoying their human rights and hamper their efforts to improve their lives as well as those of others around them.
During a recent dialogue meeting organised by Women and Land in Zimbabwe with support from Norwegian People’s Aid and Oxfam held in Harare recently, it was revealed that land conflicts hinder efforts to improve gender equality and equity.
Different conflicts faced by women
Besides land conflicts, inheritance issues, gender variances and conflicts in terms of access, control, ownership of economic resources and positions in decision making processes are also barriers to gender justice as well as social inclusion in land and natural resources management in relation to women. When it comes to conflicts over land use between those in mining and those in agriculture, most small scale women farmers have their farming activities disrupted when people in possession of mining claims start their mining operations. It appears as if mining rights take precedence over farming as most miners, particularly artisanal and small scale miners, have no respect for farmers and their farming operations. Most conflicts are caused by lack of support structures for women, gender inequality, and lack of proper knowledge on who has rights over what piece of land. In most cases, women hardly have the needed documentation of land ownership as well as other resources.
Conflicts disrupt economic transformation
In the book “Does conflict disrupt growth? Evidence on sociopolitical variables in the empirical growth models”, author Daria P. Sevastianova notes that conflicts slow economic expansion and lead to lower long term growth. Political fights, inheritance issues, problems over ownership and control of assets and resources as well as internecine conflicts over land use, especially between those in mining and agriculture, hold back women’s economic rights as they bar them from accessing productive resources and as a result disrupt social and economic growth. Speaking at a Women’s Self-Promotion Movement (WSPM) graduation in Harare recently, Harare Metropolitan Provincial Minister Miriam Chikukwa concurred that all forms of conflicts disempower women socially and economically. She said that women remain the backbone of the economy, and if they face conflicts, production will be seriously affected, and development could be halted; especially for women
Promoting equality is vital
Chikukwa said there was need to fight conflicts in order to empower women, and promoting equality is therefore crucial . Without doubt, promoting equality will increase the legal, socio-economic and political status of women. According to a fact sheet produced by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), Zimbabwe has achieved a lot in terms of promoting gender equality and women empowerment. However, despite the significant progress made in the area of policy and legislation reform, the legal, socio-economic and political status of women remains relatively low.
Documenting land ownership
Lack of proper documentation on land ownership stimulates conflicts over land ownership and use. To curb this problem, women should be provided with proper documentation for their land as well as other material resources. Women should be informed on how to register land in their names and should be allowed to do so freely. Apolonia Chonyera, an official from Wadzanai Community Development Trust (WCDT), attests to the assertion that most land is registered in the name of the husband if the woman is married, despite the fact that women work on the land more. She explained that men are mostly nominal partners, because they are hardly involved in tilling the land. Furthermore, emphasis should be placed on property rights – theoretical socially-enforced constructs in economics for determining how a resource or economic good is used and owned. Remember, property rights are an attribute of an economic good hence the need for proper documentation.
Provide inheritance rights for girls
There is need for a clear legal framework that establishes, promotes and protects inheritance rights for girls. There is therefore need for the government to craft legislation that clearly outlines the need for families to offer inheritance rights to the girl in the event that the father who is normally the custodian of land dies. Currently families follow the tradition that the son inherits the land. If the man did not have a son or if the living son is too young, the land is usually passed on the uncles who sometimes infringe on the rights of the widow and children. A clearly spelt out legal framework will also enable women to have an equal footing with men when it comes to land ownership as well as land tenure.
Increased public awareness campaigns on ownership rights
To effectively end conflicts, promote equality and empower women, more emphasis should also be given on ownership rights. Women should be capacitated with technical skills so that they can at least read and interpret legal documents that support proof of ownership. Institutions such as the Gender Commission as well as the Ministry of lands and Rural Resettlement and other critical stakeholders should be involved in conscientising women on ownership rights and other policies critical in ending any form of conflict. At the same time, traditional leaders, should be involved in awareness programmes and effectively empowered to end land and other civil conflicts since they have much influence in most rural communities. Patson Paradzai Chogugudza, councilor for Ward 5 in Domboshava, puts it correctly, when he says, “Traditional institutions should work hard to ensure that women’s land and agricultural rights are respected. This means village heads, headmen and chiefs should take a leading role in ensuring that rights of women to land are honoured.”
Zimbabwean women have for a long time battled for equal rights, but patriarchy reigns supreme at institutions that are supposed to bridge this disparity. Since most leaders in Zimbabwe are men and strongly believe in patriarchy, education should be used as a tool to promote an equal society where resources are accessed by every member not on the basis of gender.
Women are the pillars of our society. Therefore, all conflicts that inhibit them from fully participating in sustainable development activities should be eradicated if the country is to transform socio-economically.
Main image taken from www.realtor.com