Land is a precious asset in rural areas and often the only asset to be acquired. Land ownership is essential for women’s emancipation and economic security. It gives them access to the loans they need to start a business, and most importantly, it helps secure their family’s survival. However, to this day, many women are still being denied their right to land.
FEEDING THE PLANET WITHOUT ENJOYING THE REWARDS
Women are key stakeholders in the world of farming. They represent over 37% of the world’s agricultural labor force, 48% in countries with lower revenues, and as much as 80% in countries of the Sahel. Women make up almost 50% of the world’s estimated 600 million small-scale cattle breeders. In Africa, women generate 70% of food production. They represent nearly half the farming workforce and are behind 80-90% of all the food processing, packaging, storing, and distribution.
Ultimately, the world’s food security is largely in the hands of women. And yet, farmland is rarely the property of women. Indeed, women represent less than 20% of the world’s landowners. In North Africa and the Middle East, only 5% of all agricultural landowners are women, while in sub-Saharan Africa, they account for an average of 15%.
AFRICAN CUSTOMARY LAW AND TRADITION
Women often have no rights to land. Land is mostly owned by men, and women only have ownership through a male relative (such as a husband or father). In the event of inheritance, land rights usually pass to sons. Sometimes, a woman may be entitled to her father’s land before marriage. However, in many communities, women lose this right upon marriage as they gain “access” to their husband’s land. In sum, when the owner passes away, the land goes directly to the sons, and if there are none, to other male relatives.
Local community and customary laws usually prevail, even in countries where the law guarantees equal access to property. Women depend on their spouses, who are generally considered the main heads of the family, own the land, decide on its use, and allocate work among family members. Although traditions may differ from region to region, they have one common feature: excluding women from property rights.
Organizations work to introduce or strengthen the laws that guarantee women’s rights to land and combat the social norms and practices that prejudice women.
CHAD: TAKING ACTION TO ENSURE WOMEN’S ECONOMIC SECURITY
In Pala, Association des Femmes pour l’Autopromotion (Women’s Association for Self-Promotion) supports and supervises the creation and promotion of new income-generating activities for women in rural areas to help them break free from poverty. Feminists in Action sponsors this project, which offers training to 250 women and girls organized in groups covering various areas: farming, food processing and marketing, livestock breeding, and market gardening. However, the environment they work in is far from favorable. With the depletion of soils due to climate change, they earn very little profit from their sales. In this regard, the association supports women through all their efforts in seeking financial independence.
In the Mandoul region, the Organisation Internationale des Femmes du Millénaire (International Organization of Women of the Millennium) is another organization sponsored by Feminists in Action that trains, mentors, and financially supports 30 groups of women farmers. The organization created a rotating credit fund to help women process their produce and make enough profit to buy their land.
Women farmers will never achieve financial security without the right to land. And it is difficult to achieve emancipation without financial security. As food insecurity rises, it is vital to ensure that women can own the land they farm.