Challenges of Women Land and Property Rights in Meru District
The community challenge vs the project
Community Economic Development and Social Transformation (CEDESOTA) initiated a Women Land and Property Rights project in Meru District in 2016 in order to lobby and advocate for women’s land and property rights in the district communities. Its purpose is changing harmful cultural/traditional and religious beliefs that are discriminative and oppressive towards women. These affect women in all facets of life, worst being denying them participation in family and community decision making as well as property ownership.
These repressive traditions and beliefs provide room for a male dominant society with less space for women to equally access and enjoy rights as men. CEDESOTA project aimed at creating awareness on existing laws to highlight inequality in such cultural and religious practices and thus help to facilitate community changes to reflect national laws, which address gender equality and equity. The project was implemented in sixteen villages in four Wards of King’ori, Makiba, Maroroni and Leguruki of the Meru district in Arusha region.
Intervention and linkages
CEDESOTA facilitated the formation of women forums in every village and ward with view of empowering women and engaging men on Land Rights, Good Governance, Social Accountability, Climate Change, Gender Equality and Equity as well as Sexual Reproductive Health.
CEDESOTA created synergies through linking awareness campaigns within existing cultural and local government structures in the communities. This reached:
- Sixteen (16) village chairpersons
- Sixteen (16) Village Executive Officers
- Four (4) Ward Executive Officers
- Four (4) Councillors
- Twelve (12) traditional leaders, and
- Four (4) Social Workers
- Twelve (12) Religious leaders
The Executive Director of CEDESOTA Mr Jackson Muro reports that training programmes, community dialogues, radio programs and informal meetings raised community awareness on issues of women land and property rights. Local government, religious and traditional leaders’ attitudes and perception have changed. They now believe it is no longer a threat to let their women and girls own land and property.
“This has resulted in more women applying for land ownership, families have applied for joint land ownership and parents are giving boys and girls equal land ownership rights. Women are buying personal properties and writing wills which have blocked traditional discrimination against property ownership. In general, this is protecting wives and children from repressive traditions” he adds.
In another development, religious leaders have become good advocates on promotion of women land and property ownership. They regularly include the message in their sermons in churches and mosques. This has helped many women who had lost properties after parents’ and spouses deaths to get justice.
Makiba Ward Women Forum
To understand the impact created by community awareness campaigns on women land and property rights ownership, we talked to members of Makiba Women Forum whose lives and their community have been transformed.
Unlike her peers, Upendo was a direct victim on the wrath of cultural perception on denying women land and property ownership. Her pain is so real that she never likes to talk about the trauma she went through; after she lost her husband, child and sister to a road accident.
“I did not know my power, what my rights were and what to do, but through the education I received on women land rights, good governance, social accountability and gender equality, I have rediscovered my worth and position as a family and community leader” – Upendo Silvester, Makiba Ward (Women Forum Chairperson)
She added that previously women could never think of being leaders let alone entertain the thought of taking up leadership positions.
“We considered it a man’s responsibility. People never believed in women’s ability and their views were ignored and considered as irrelevant. This in return reduced women’s confidence and self-esteem. But these training have changed us; we have become bolder, we vie for leadership positions and the community looks up to us in solving community issues. And we are trusted than our men counterparts” she reveals.
Gone are the days where women would not inherit properties from their parents and husbands.
She says that it was even common for the family and community to look for a man to take care of the property on behalf of the woman because men were more valued than women. “But now I know we are all equal and a woman can own land just like men”.
“These Women Land Forums really help us. It is our place to discuss and solve our issues as women. Through these we have helped six women from Makiba Ward and another from Mbuguni village to get back their land that had been grabbed” says Upendo.
She adds that Women Forum members have become helpers beyond our community borders through the education we share through radio. In one case they helped an only child whose parents had passed away in Same district of Kilimanjaro region to get back her parents’ property, where her relatives who despite being educated wanted to take advantage of her ignorance and deny her inheritance rights. She is now married, lives in Zanzibar and she got back her property. She now leases it for farming.
A very important ingredient in the success of this project has been the good relationships with the local government and village leadership through assistance the Forum provides in solving families and land conflicts. Initially; these were used to be solved by the local government at the district. So this has built the capacity, boldness and confidence of the village leadership, hence reduction of workload for local government officers and case backlog.
Kesia explains from her own example on how the knowledge on women and girls welfare and land rights has helped her to understand the importance of economic empowerment for girls and women in general. She says, she has written a will and given land to her three daughters in the event of her death or her husband’s.
“Through our Forum, we have helped in handling a number of land conflicts involving widows and other women from Meru community. These women lost their husbands (three widows), and others were given pieces of land by their parents. The challenge was that in Meru traditions, it was not common for women to inherit or own ancestral land” – Kesia Abel Kaaya, Deputy Women Forum, Valeska Village Makiba Ward
Another community story comes from Rosemary. She describes herself as an exceptionally courageous Meru community woman; divorced, abandoned with two children to take care. She fought for justice on their property after husband started selling properties without giving her and their children their entitled share.
“I reported him to the village leadership, but I did not get any help and decided to take the case forward to the Ward Office demanding my children’s’ rights to the remaining property. He was stopped and I was given property rights for my children. I had to defeat eleven conservative traditional leaders who were against Meru women lawfully inheriting their entitled family property” – Rosemary Peniel Nanyaro, Chairperson Patanumbe
In another case, Rosemary who is knowledgeable about women’s rights helped a widow to stop her family from taking away her land. She supported her to report the case at the Ward Office which dealt with the case accordingly. She got back her farm.
“I am grateful for what I have learned from CEDESOTA, I have gained confidence and courage to speak to elders and other community members about the importance of girls and women rights. Also the right to participate in decision making and vie for existing leadership positions” – Dina William Laizer, Women Forum Member
“This knowledge has made me courageous because I now understand women’s rights and leading a sub-village with a population of about 250 people. I am now looking forward to vie Councillorship, because I believe I can lead my community and people will support me” – Mariam Daudi Msemo, Chairperson Sub Village