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“It takes a village” to protect a woman’s land: Working at the community-level to secure women’s land rights in Southern Africa Marianna Bicchieri, Chief.

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Presentation on theme: "“It takes a village” to protect a woman’s land: Working at the community-level to secure women’s land rights in Southern Africa Marianna Bicchieri, Chief."— Presentation transcript:

1 “It takes a village” to protect a woman’s land: Working at the community-level to secure women’s land rights in Southern Africa Marianna Bicchieri, Chief Technical Adviser, FAO Mozambique Rachael Knight, Director, Community Land Protect Program, NAMATI Washington, March 2014

2 To protect women’s rights, rather then seeking individual titles, it is fundamental to create comprehensive, community-wide safety nets that include customary leaders, men, women, youth, police, and local land administrators;  Rather than seeking individual titles for women’s land rights – a process that runs counter to customary legal paradigms and thus takes women out of the cultural context that governs all of their familial, social and economic relationships – it is necessary to support the community to create intra-community mechanisms and systems that ensure women’s land and natural resources protection. In this presentation, we will discuss why individual titling for women’s rights is not an effective strategy, and describe alternative strategies that have had proven successful. INTRODUCTION : THESIS AND OVERVIEW

3 CUSTOMARY LAW: PAST AND PRESENT In the past, customary land tenure models included protections for women’s land rights; Yet increased land scarcity and the resulting rise in land competition are leading more “powerful” family members – in-laws, brothers, uncles, etc. – to reinterpret and “rediscover” customary rules that undermine women’s land rights; In this context, the very people given the responsibility to protect land rights of women become the ones who have begun to dispossess them of their land: -widows lose land to brothers-in-law, heirs, and inheritors… -unmarried sisters lose land to their brothers and sisters-in-law… -young nephews lose land to their more powerful uncles…. Trends such as widow dispossession are not “custom” but rather an adulteration of custom that allows relatively “stronger” family members to grab land of “weaker” family members.

4 HOW TO PROTECT WOMEN’S RIGHTS? Individual land titling initiatives? Individual titling has proven to work in urban, peri-urban and densely populated regions. However, emerging research has shown that securing individual titles for women in rural Africa - without changing existing social constructs - may actually endanger women and undermine their ability to protect their land claims; Studies show a link between the empowerment of women (without a corresponding sensitization of men) to increased gender-based violence; “Husbands might get very worried if wives got land; they might punish the wives.” Most critically, unless women’s land rights are specifically targeted, individual titling schemes have more often than not proven to exacerbate gender inequality. When only the name of the male head of household is put on the certificate, women are effectively stripped of any formal, legal acknowledgement of their land claims.

5 How to Make Rights Real? The question then is “how to make women’s land rights real” – and by this we mean, “as practiced on the ground by families and communities in the normal course of their lives” – in a way that honors the wisdom of African customs and cultures, rather than replacing locally-valid practices with imported Western paradigms?”

6 Protecting Women’s rights: 360 degree safety net “It takes a village” to protect a woman’s land! To best protect women’s land rights, it is necessary to work to change the local culture and customs within which women’s land rights are embedded, creating a 360 degree safety net; Educating not only women but also men and leaders about women’s land rights; if men and leaders are not involved in efforts to increase women’s land tenure security, women’s actual rights on the ground will not improve. Training customary leaders to mediate family land disputes in a gender-equitable manner, and according to national laws, as data indicate that community members consider them to be primarily responsible for the protection of women’s and widows’ land rights; Supporting the creation of gender-equitable community by-laws and governance processes;

7 Using community-based paralegals to bring the justice system directly into the community, carry out on-going legal education about women’s land rights, and support local leaders to more equitably decide intra- and inter-family land conflicts related to women’s land claims; Supporting community watchdog groups to be alert for instances of potential land dispossession from women and widows and take action to prevent a dispossession before it happens; and Leveraging the power of local land administrators, police and judges; and Creating a strong enabling environment through advocacy and education campaigns. Protecting Women’s rights: 360 degree safety net

8 Source:

9 Since 2006 FAO and the Judicial and Judicial Training Centre of Ministry of Justice have been training paralegals: -basic legal training on relevant laws concerning access to land -gender equality, and women’s land rights After the training, the paralegals to return to their communities and teach people about land rights and gender equality, how to use them in practice, and how to defend them when necessary; More then 500 rural communities were reached by 150 paralegals in 2012-2013; Impact study has shown mitigation of gender inequality in the communities supported by paralegals; Some results: Communities have put a stop to discriminatory practices towards women, traditional courts have abolished widow’s dispossession, women have been appointed as customary judges. Stories from the Field: COMMUNITY BASED PARALEGALS

10 Paralegal Training Courses: CSO, NGO, public sector staff, and community leader are being trained on the most important laws regarding access to land, gender equality, and women’s rights to land. Paralegal Training Course, Mozambique, October 2010

11 Community Meetings

12 Namati and its partners CTV, SDI and LEMU have been working with communities in Uganda, Liberia and Mozambique to be part of its legal empowerment and community land protection program; The constitution/by-laws process: Allowed space and time for communities to publicly reflect on and discuss their existing rules and the underlying reasons for these rules: –In this process, women actively question and challenge traditional rules that discriminate against them. It became clear from the post-service focus group discussions and the various drafts of the by-laws that by women being involved in these discussions they successfully impacted the content of their community’s rules. Stories from the Field: GENDER-EQUITABLE COMMUNITY BY-LAWS

13 The meetings and the by-laws-drafting discussions: 1.Provided an opportunity for women to actively challenge discriminatory customary norms and argue for the inclusion of protections for their land and inheritance rights. Resulted in: The strengthening of existing women‘s rights; The maintenance of rights that may have been lost in the transition from oral to written rules; The rejuvenation of customary norms that existed in the past to protect women‘s land claims; The alignment of local rules with national laws that protect women’s land rights. 2. Changed community perceptions of women’s involvement in land governance. Focus groups reported that: – Women’s focus groups reported: “It was good we talked about our laws; now we can talk all together about women’s rights and how women can own property.” “We talked, and they listened to us. Our opinions are respected.” – One men’s focus group explained that “Women are now considered as part of the decision-making committee.” Stories from the Field: GENDER-EQUITABLE COMMUNITY BY-LAWS



16 Instead of working to protect women’s land rights by only empowering women, or providing some women with titles, a more efficient and sustainable way to strengthen women’s tenure security is to create an enabling environment at the community level; Targeting both women and men’s legal awareness; Rather than dismantling the local customary system, it is both necessary and far more productive to work within it; To increase women’s tenure security by shifting discriminatory practices and bringing the wider customary legal structure into alignment with national and human rights law. CONCLUSIONS

17 I really enjoyed the training, because I learned that women also have rights. Before the course, I thought that only men were 'worthy' of having rights. When I came back [from the training] I told my friends and everyone in our community that women also have rights; the land and the houses should be shared and men and women should have equal rights.” (Inocência, pesant and community activist trained as paralegal in Mozambique)

18 Thank you! Marianna Bicchieri FAO Chief Technical Adviser E-mail: Rachael Knight Director, Namati E-mail:

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