January 19, 2012

Women fight for their rights over land

Thirty six year old Grace Bbayu, a resident of Mvumi village in Dodoma lost her husband in 2002. All of a sudden she was widowed and thought her plight was one of the worst blows in her life. Little did she know more was yet to come. Still mourning her partner's loss, her property was confiscated by her in-laws, leading to months of suffering which drove her to the point of despair.

Hope unexpectedly came from a neighbour, who had attended training on women's rights coordinated by a Non Government Organisation, Women Wake Up (WOWAP). The neighbour advised Bbayu to visit their offices. WOWAP has a paralegal unit that gives legal help to women like Bbayu. The NGO manages a three year project 'Women's Access to Land' funded by the Civil Society Foundation. With assistance from lawyers at WOWAP, Bbayu got her property back- and this gave her a fresh start in life for her five children and herself.
Speaking to 'Daily News' in Dodoma, Bbayu said many more widows wallow in poverty, as traditionally they are not allowed to inherit land -a critical resource in the production of food. Bbayu's neighbour, Fatuma Ali, said there were many cases, where women, having lost their husbands had their property confiscated, land inclusive by their in-laws, leaving the widow and orphans homeless. The alternatives are either to return to their parents' homes or live a destitute life fighting to survive.

"In our traditional setting we did not have any rights over property. As a result we the women suffered marginalisation, "she said while resting her small frame on a table. "On the contrary, she adds, everything pertaining to tilling the land is a woman's business," she said. Forty three year old Fatuma, who has used her knowledge to form groups of women across the area, said education conducted by village councils and civil societies has enlightened hundreds of women.

"Widows had no where to run to and suffered in silence," she said. Customs that deny women ownership of and use of land have been outlawed by the Land Act. Education and information from WOWAP, seeks to reinforce women's rights in regards to inheritance and the acquisition of family land. "The campaigns are carried out to discourage and end cultural practices that bar women from inheriting land and to encourage citizens to write wills so as to avoid conflicts over inheritance," says WOWAP Director Fatuma Tawfiqu.
"Government and civil society have to do more. Society needs to start seeing women people who contribute immensely to economic growth by owning and controlling land," she said. As stated in the Land Laws, people can now go and have their land disputes solved at village council level. Tawfiqu says the radical move, which initially faced resistance from members of the community who did not want change were gradually won over. More women armed themselves with knowledge on land rights.

"We have to right the cultural and social economic wrongs that hinder the economic progress of women and other traditionally disadvantaged groups, in Tanzania", Tawfiqu said. Girls are now considered stakeholders of family land. Early marriage for women, she noted, is an issue the government is confronting with the view to empower the female child in that respect as well. "That low social and educational status of women in some societies prevents them from making decisions," she said.

Tawfiqu describes the developments as historic and important and congratulated village councils for fronting this cause that ensures equal rights to land for both men and women. In Tanzania women to produce at least 80 per cent of the country's food and 90 per cent of their labour is channelled towards food production and processing. In the past Tanzanian women only held slightly over one per cent of land titles yet they form over 80 per cent of the workforce in the agricultural sector.

Based on the Land Act 1999, there is room for joint or spousal registration and documentation of land rights. "Before selling such land, the seller is required to produce evidence-spousal consent- that the decision had been agreed upon by his or her partner," Tawfiqu says. Under the project, WOWAP has conducted training on legal rights in four villages namely, Makangwa, Kipanga, Mtikila and Zanka. The major challenges faced were having to win over people who strongly believe in the patriarchal system, an impediment for women seeking justice.

Tawfiqu however notes that there are people who were positive to change. An example is a 70 year old man at Mkunza village in Dodoma district got training on land rights and legal literacy. He has become a trainer in neighbouring communities and this has solved many land and marriage conflicts. Burton Mwidowe, 40, one of the beneficiaries of the trains fellow trainers at Mvumi. Mwidowe says the programme funded by Foundation for Civil Society, has helped communities interpret the Land Act of 1999.
WOWAP's main aim is to educate society at large on the aspects of human rights, women and children rights. In this particular project WOWAP uses paralegals. From the analysis of data collected during monitoring and evaluation visit, it was found that 20 people from each village were trained as paralegals and they in turn educated 847 men and 909 women. (Tanzania Daily News)


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