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Time to safeguard women’s right to land resources

By Milliam Murigi
Thursday, May 14th, 2020
Faith Alubbe, Executive Director, Kenya Land Alliance.
In summary
    • Traditional justice systems — the gatekeepers of culture— have continued to infringe on the rights of women through the practice and glorification of retrogressive cultural practices, including right to own land. 
    • This means Kenya is  not leveraging on women’s potential to contribute to the realisation of Sustainable Development Goals.

Improving women’s access to and control over land is key to poverty reduction, urges FAITH ALUBBE, Executive Director, Kenya Land Alliance.

Milliam Murigi @millymur1

For a long time, women have been considered “rubber stamps “of some already formed opinions in most male-dominated spaces. 

This is why only one per cent of women in Kenya owned land by 2017, according to data by the Ministry of Lands and Physical Planning.

However, things are set to change with more women becoming vocal on land and land-based resource matters. 

One such woman is Faith Alubbe, Executive Director, Kenya Land Alliance (KLA). She says it is time to safeguard women’s right to land and land-based resources in Kenya.

“Land is a crucial resource for social and cultural identity, political power and participation in decision making.

It  is also the most acceptable form of collateral for credit and since many women in Kenya lack ownership of land, they cannot effectively mobilise resources to acquire property, start-up businesses or even participate in matters of governance,” she says.

Alubbe says actualisation of women’s right to land and land-based resources will still be a pipe dream unless women can identify and claim their rights.

This is because of the history of land ownership is embedded in Kenya’s societal structure and process, where men are the leaders. 

Persistent discriminatory social norms and practices are among the strongest barriers between women and their land and property rights. 

Additionally, weak implementation of policies, insufficient capacity to enforce laws and a lack of political will further compounds the problem.  

“Communities need to abandon retrogressive cultural and traditional beliefs that encumber women from enjoying their land and resource rights. This is the only way women will fully secure their rights,” she says. 

Hindrances such as poor access to legal services and lack of understanding of laws within communities and households and by women themselves build an invisible, but near impenetrable wall to women realising land and property rights in rural and urban areas alike.

Lastly, an adversarial legal system that is lengthy and expensive sometimes leads to the defeat of justice.

“Women should be involved and included in decision-making processes on land and land-based resources.

This can be done through the establishment of women-centred mechanisms in public participation initiatives to ensure that community consultation processes include women’s concerns and are sensitive to gender dynamics,” says Alubbe. 

Though the Constitution guarantees women’s land rights, and there are even stronger principles embodied in the National Land Policy, gender discrimination in land rights is still deeply rooted among communities and has not yielded easily to legal norms. 

Credit collateral 

Traditional justice systems — the gatekeepers of culture— have continued to infringe on the rights of women through the practice and glorification of retrogressive cultural practices.

This has forced women to relinquish inheritance rights in favour of male members of the family. 

This leaves women vulnerable and pushes them further into poverty. 

“Women’s access to land and property is central to women’s socio-economic empowerment and plays a critical role in poverty reduction, food security, and access to credit and affordable and comprehensive health care.

Without women’s right to land being safeguarded, realising the SDGs is a tall order,” urges Alubbe. 

This is why KLA is on the forefront of campaigning and advocating for women land rights nationally, regionally and in various counties.

Through its standalone Women Land Rights programmatic work, the organisation continue to drive advocacy efforts to ensure women enjoy the progressive land laws that give them rights beyond just access to land but to also own and have control over land.

“We undertake civic education on existing legal and policy frameworks to ensure that communities are aware of the policy, legislative and institutional frameworks to protect women’s rights to land,” she says. 

Apart from that their research and documentation with the Ministry of Lands and Physical Planning, KLA is fighting to ensure the story of women land rights is empirically proven to inform policy and legislative processes.

They also support movement building to promote the gender equality principle inland governance at the grassroots levels. 

Development goals 

“Recognising the role of the Council of Elders in our societies has given us an entry point to knowledge, build them and re-construct their perceptions on women land rights. Gradually, we have noticed it works.

We have also established local women networks and coalitions to advance on women’s rights to land and land-based resources,” says Alubbe. 

“But why are you at the forefront to advocate for women’s land rights?” we ask her. 

“According to the World Bank, the land is the centre of development and a factor of production. 

“Further, improving women’s access to and control over economic resources also has a positive effect on a range of development goals, including poverty reduction, mitigation of climate change, and access to finance, food-secure households and economic growth,” says Alubbe.  

She says the fact that women might be excluded from the governance of land will compromise their right to access and use of land thus putting their livelihoods at risk.

  “Besides losing their livelihoods, it will also be difficult for women to demand inclusion and participation in matters Land.

Therefore, it is important to knowledge-build and mobilise women to fully participate in land governance processes,” says Alubbe.