The Kilimanjaro Initiative: Women claim right to land, natural resources


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By Byron Mutingwende

Zimbabwean women have embraced the Kilimanjaro initiative which aims to enhance the recognition of rural women as leaders and agents of change in society and create space for them to be able to participate in decision making processes about land and natural resources.

The Kilimanjaro Initiative is a rural women’s mobilisation from across Africa towards an iconic moment at the foot of Mt. Kilimanjaro in October 2016. The Kilimanjaro Initiative was conceived during a meeting of rural women and civil society organisations in 2012, held in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

In an interview with Spiked ZW Online, Wadzanai Mudzongo, the ActionAid Zimbabwe Project Officer for Climate Resilience and Sustainable Agriculture said that the initiative also aims to highlight women’s strength and resilience, and as such ensures that women are not considered as vulnerable, but rather as being in vulnerable situations as a result of gender power dynamics.

“It is therefore important to understand the full scope of rural women’s lack of security, taking into account that women are not a homogenous group but are subject to different kinds of vulnerabilities, which vary over the course of their lives. With 2016 declared by the 26th African Union Summit as “African Year of Human Rights with particular focus on the Rights of Women,” coupled with the transition into SDGs – which include commitments on gender equality including for land – our focus on rural women’s right to land and natural resources towards a food and nutritional secure continent could have never been timelier,” Mudzongo said ahead of the Zimbabwean delegation’s trip to Nyanga.

Among the organisations participating in this initiative are ActionAid Zimbabwe, Oxfam Zimbabwe, Women and Resources in Eastern and Southern Africa (WARESA), Women and Land Zimbabwe and the Women’s Coalition of Zimbabwe, Kunzwana Women’s Association, The Women Farmer Lands and Agriculture, the Livelihood Food Security Programme and the Agricultural Production nutrition under the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations.

Evidence shows that individual small-scale women farmers in Zimbabwe are resilient against the odds. They are the backbone of the smallholder agricultural sector and feed the nation by being the main producers and processors of food. However despite women doing most of the work on the land they often face the biggest battle to call this land their own. Zimbabwean women are much less likely to own or be secure on their land compared to men. This is true for both customary land, and resettled land. While huge steps forward have been made at national and international level to redress historic and colonial gender injustices, the reality is that women are still last in line for land and other productive resources.

There are a number of factors that justify the need to give women stronger rights to land. Women are generally responsible for household food security and nutrition; therefore, their access to land for food production is critical to the welfare of the entire household.

When women have equal access, ownership and control over land and other productive resources, their crop yields increase by 20-30%. This is untapped potential that can not be ignored – especially in the face of the current food crisis. When women are secure on their land, they have the incentive and ability to invest in that land – turning farming into a business. Women are more likely to invest in land when they don’t live in fear of losing it . They can use their land to access lines of credit, or enter into a contract farming relationship with a company.

 Women with land have the capacity to mobilise seed, fertiliser and credit. They can also use land as a platform for negotiating access to government-based assistance. For smallholder farmers, land is both an asset and a form of social security. Women who are secure on their land are better able to cope with all kinds of shocks – from drought to economic shocks. Control of land increases women’s bargaining power in the households and places where they live. Women need secure access to land as it is a source of identity, empowerment, and social status.

 Women need land for insurance as they negotiate the challenges imposed by their situations, being sometimes shuttled between their place of birth and their conjugal relationships. Zimbabwe is a signatory to the 2003 Maputo Protocol to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights on Women’s Rights, which requires African states to “promote women’s access to and control over productive resources such as land and guarantee their right to property” – and also to the revised SADC Protocol on Gender and Development which contains the same commitment (article 18). The new Zimbabwean Constitution recognises men and women as equal citizens in every respect. It provides the framework for equal land rights, but does not have adequate mechanisms for implementing these provisions.

However, women’s access, ownership and control of land is determined by men. The majority of the Zimbabwe’s population live in customary tenure areas – where land is governed by patriarchal systems. As a result, men are the primary land-holders, and women negotiate access to land through their male relations – relying on fathers, brothers, husbands, uncles or male-dominated traditional authorities for land.

This means women lose out because customary tenure is the least secure for women who hold derived land rights. Land has become increasingly contested, and women are generally worst placed to (re-)negotiate agricultural land. On the other hand, men benefited more from land the land reform compared to women. According to the Ministry of Women Affairs, gender and Community Development Gender policy, under resettled land, 18% of beneficiaries of A1 land reform and 12% under A2 are women – a development which the government considers falls short of the gender parity ideal.

According to the African Institute for Agrarian Studies, (AIAS, 2016), there are also barriers to joint registration. Although land registration in resettlement areas provides for the registration of both spouses, married women’s land rights are often trampled by husbands who are reluctant to jointly register land rights. In some cases, women also perpetuate patriarchal practices by opting to register their land in the name of their son or brother.

Both men and women who gained land under the fast-track land reform programme still need to secure their land rights to facilitate for increased investment as appropriate. In addition, land conflicts disproportionately affect women: Where conflicts occur, women are ten times more likely to be targeted and to experience gender based violence and/or sexual abuse in their bid to reclaim their rights. Recent survey evidence showed that 40% of female landholders in resettlement areas continue to experience conflicts which are related to ownership of land and farm boundaries, and eviction threats from their land in comparison to 4.1% for men (AIAS, 2014). Men still dominate the means of production (livestock, seeds, chemicals, family labour, credit, agricultural equipment).

According to WARESA, extension services are not female-friendly. The majority of extension staff are still male – making it difficult for female farmers to consult the service provider due to cultural norms. The way in which most extension services are provided – i.e. on farm demonstrations – makes it difficult for women to benefit as their other household responsibilities prevent them from spending long periods of time on their farms.