Community radio and civil society fighting oppressive land rights traditions

  • Community-based initiative works to end Iringa’s women land rights challenges

Iringa is a vibrant municipality and like many urban centres in Tanzania, radio culture runs the pace of life in this small city on the southern highlands. Nuru FM, a small community radio station in the region, is one among dozens of community radio stations that have sprung up all over Tanzania in recent years making it one of the fastest-growing broadcast media providing the much-needed local content public information dissemination.

Nuru FM partnered with civil society and Local Government Authorities (LGAs) to fight degrading and oppressive patriarchal traditions, particularly regarding land rights for women in Iringa communities.

Women land rights in Iringa vs. customs and traditions

Despite boasting one of the highest regional per capita incomes of TZS 3.7 million drawn from GDP of TZS 4.3 trillion, women in communities in Iringa region face limitations in owning land while they constitute more than half (51.5%) of the region’s population of 1.1 million (Tanzania in Figures, NBS, 2019). Iringa is one of the fastest developing regions in agricultural and industrial production in the country. And yet, a woman is left behind.

In most Tanzanian communities, women are the driving force in agricultural production and are responsible for ensuring food security for their households and communities. However, despite their lead role in generating income and feeding their homes, women are still forced to deal with very oppressive harmful traditional practices that degrade and deny them rights to own the very land on which they toil to provide for their families and community. The Hehe community, a majority in Iringa region, are one of the staunchest followers of patriarchal traditions and customs.

Traditionally, in conservative Iringa communities, women are not allowed to own land or any other properties whether as an inheritance from their family or in marriage. This is despite women being the hardest workers in most households. Men, even the youngest boys in the households, have more voice and authority than women, including their mothers and sisters” says Mrs Faraja Chaula, Gender Desk Coordinator at Iringa District Council in Iringa.

Following years of research and government efforts, many of these traditions are being proscribed, giving women, particularly a girl child, the opportunity to rise, grow and prosper in their households and communities. Civil society has worked hard in many communities to educate citizens, create awareness and partner with community volunteers, champions and local leaders to bring about meaningful changes to oppressive traditions that undermine women. In Iringa region, community radio has been used as the main vehicle of key messaging disseminated to the masses.

Women land rights campaigns

Efforts to rid our society of these harmful traditional practices, particularly regarding women land rights, fall on all stakeholders in the society including the civil society; the latter being a link between the communities and the government. Moreover, the civil society interventions reach remote and grassroots communities very effectively as the organizations are community-based.

Iringa Civil Society Organisation (ICISO) is a civil society organisation based in Iringa region. They received capacity development assistance and a development grant from Foundation for Civil Society to implement a community-focused initiative in Kilolo and Iringa districts covering four (4) Wards and 25 villages in Iringa region. The project focused on community awareness and education campaigns, advocacy through community meetings, social gatherings and community radios.

As a community radio station, this agenda of women land rights touched us and our mandate directly. Despite lack of adequate resources, we felt that we could contribute in many ways professionally to get the key messages across to communities that women have the right to own land; and secondly, use our platform to effect meaningful change in society” says Godfrey Mengele, an official at Nuru FM radio.

The station’s staff participated in community training sessions which later enabled them to produce a variety of content and programmes targeted at all key audience segments. They also provided airtime for content on women rights to own land throughout their collaboration with ICISO. In addition, they participated in roadshows and community events in the villages.

The key message during community training and awareness campaigns on the national laws and policies was the position of women in the household and how land ownership empowers women. ICISO provided capacity building services to Ward Land Tribunals including training on the very crucial Marriage and Land Acts. Furthermore, the Civil Society Organization facilitated advocacy campaigns that targeted local government leaders (LGAs) in all Wards, including Councilors, village, social, religious and traditional leaders.

Results impacting communities

Changing traditions: “The most important result of ICISO interventions has to be changing traditions and customs to elevate and empower women in the society,” says Mrs Chaula, adding “Women land ownership interventions empower women and create room for women to have a voice and take on leadership roles. In these conservative communities having a woman lead sends a very strong message to the community, particularly women and young girls

Women’s access to land: Following the community awareness and training campaigns, more women have come forward to apply for land from village leadership. These women send in their applications to capitalise on the government’s move to reduce the application cost per acre to encourage women to buy land as part of women empowerment. Villages are directed by the government to work with district Land Officers to process title deeds for villagers.

Village land tribunals and registers: As a result of the ICISO project, Nyamahana Village formed their land tribunal which has been central in solving all land-related conflicts in their village. This has increased ownership and the community’s ability to solve all land cases and disputes. The tribunal was selected through a public meeting in the village. Moreover, these efforts resulted in the establishment of their Land Register that records and documents all cases related to property and land rights. A total of 16 cases have been registered, 14 of them solved. All these cases were brought forward by women to the Ward Community Development Office.

Capacity building to radio partner: Following participation in Women Land rights intervention in Iringa, Nuru FM has benefited through:

  • Diversified programming content to include content on laws and policies guiding women land ownership
  • Expanded audience in the villages
  • Conducted road-shows and in the region through programmes
  • Revenue to the station, albeit very little
  • Capacity building to station staff on matters of women land rights

For us, participation in the ICISO project was not for financial gains. We have benefited in many other ways whilst changing community perceptions with regards to women land rights” said Mr Mengele from Nuru FM.

Mrs Chaula highlighted the importance of closer collaboration and partnership between the government, LGAs, and Civil society as;

  • To align Civil society project interventions with national-level plans and priorities
  • To get sectoral technical guidelines, hence increase the success rate of interventions
  • To reduce duplication in implementation area and increase value for money
  • To increase transparency and accountability of interventions

Bright future ahead for Betina Maulid Mkongovi

Betina is now a proud legal owner of 14 acres of land in her community in Irindi Village, Kilolo District in Iringa. Being a poor, middle age (she is 46 yo) mother of five (5) children, farming is her only source of livelihood. She has tilled the land, fed her households and raised her children for years. The difference right now is the land she tills is her own legally owned land.

I was living in total darkness, believing that a woman has no right in any matter on land ownership,” says Betina as she settles on a mat outside a modest burnt red soil brick and cement house with corrugated iron sheets. Her ill daughter joins the sit downer. Betina continues, “Being in an abusive marriage was my worst experience. My ex-husband had two wives and he controlled everything. Our lives were chaotic. We argued and fought daily. I just got tired and decided enough is enough

Betina later joined a women land rights forum which changed her life. Like a sponge, she soaked in every ounce of knowledge on women and their rights to land and property ownership. This gave her the confidence to pursue a case against her ex-husband at the village leadership. She succeeded to get her portion of the family properties, four (4) acres. In addition, her father gave her another four acres as her share of the family land. With the new found confidence, Betina applied for land through the village leadership and managed to get six more acres. This secures her future. Nowadays, this gives her a good sleep every night.

The training on women rights made me look at women and their place in the household differently – more respectful. This opened our eyes in the village. We were being left behind. I am so happy now” says Betina with a smile.

Betina and her family work the land every season. She grows maize, groundnuts, sunflower and sorghum for food and income. She managed to save and bought a motorcycle taxi (tuktuk/bodaboda) which is operated by her elder son.

I wish this initiative could continue. I know that more women would have benefited from it. Many are still in the darkness” Betina sums up the discussion as she gets up and took the visitors to her two farms just a few hundred metres from the homestead. She proudly started weeding her maize farm and continues with more stories of her village. She then crossed the path and started doing the same to her groundnuts.