Polygamy and Women’s Land Rights in Iringa

Ask yourself this. Honestly how many times have you ever heard polygamy in the same breath as any good story regarding women’s rights in society? Hardly maybe. We are heading to Igula Village, in Isimani area, Iringa region to follow up a very interesting story about one polygamous family. There are three of us – Fatma Tweve and Diana Ndanzi, respectively the Coordinator and Field Officer working with TARWOK, a civil society organisation implementing a project focusing on women land and property rights; and myself.


The situation regarding women land rights in this area

Igula and Isimani, in general, are in a dire state of drought. The village is off the tarmacked Iringa – Dodoma road through the Mtera Hydroelectric Dam, where you branch into a dusty feeder road taking you to a remote dry and reddish community. The drought and dust here signal food shortage this year as crops have died due to the lack of enough rainfall. Harvests were the lowest experienced in recent records.


This is affirmed by the Igula village leaders – Chairperson Linus Kinyamagoha and Village Executive Romanus Kapanga. It’s official. This subsistence-farming-dependent community expects food shortages. In this area, the majority of women normally take the lead in farming, hence food security for every household in the village. So, technically it is women who will bear most the burden of the challenge to ensure there is food security in their households.


However, despite their lead role and responsibility in agricultural production and feeding their households, still, women have to deal with very oppressive harmful traditional practices that deny them rights to own the very land they toil to provide food security for their families and community in general. And this despite benefiting their husbands too! Welcome to the Hehe community.

Our traditional practices made it very difficult for a woman to own land. Women were worthless to the point that parents preferred sending boys to school rather than their daughters” narrates Mzee Linus Kinyamagoha, Igula Village chairman.


Despite the government’s efforts and a firm hand on this, still many households found ways to frustrate and discourage girls until their only way out of this misery was just dropping out of school. We were so backward and primitive” he adds.

This drought alongside a growing population in a rapidly expanding village means hard times ahead. Women are the lead figures in producing food for most households, therefore denying them a voice in using and owning land for food production means food insecurity for the village. And sadly, there are no other alternatives. No capital for other economic activities such as businesses, irrigation farming and keeping animals. There is an acute lack of water in the area, even from boreholes. This despite the area believed to have underground water very close to the surface.


The miracle out of polygamy

The journey to Igula Village in Isimani, Iringa was about two women, co-wives to be exact. Mama Mazena Mwenda (54) and Yosefina Mtomkali (60) are two of three wives of Mzee Yusuph Kasuke. Between the three women they own 40 acres of land their husband gave them. They processed and got a certificate of customary right of occupancy (CCROs) for their land. Their polygamy story is interesting and eye-opening.


Farming on the family’s collective land had serious problems when it came to harvests distribution. It was always not fair. This brought lots of frictions and disrupted peace within the household” says Mazena, a mother of five children who is the second wife of Mzee Yusuph. “So what I did was talk to my co-wives first then I moved out to start my own household. I was still part of the family. We all subscribed to the idea. And that’s how we all started our separate farms


This move highly improved productivity in their farming in just one season. Food security was ensured in the three separate households with surplus bringing in income for the whole family. At this point, their husband saw the importance of each of his wives owning a separate land since it increased the family welfare. Other polygamous households in Igula look up to this family to learn something positive.

“Honestly, we are very happy now; each one in her household. Our family is very peaceful now. Everyone is responsible to plan, farm and use her harvests the way she wishes. We also lease the unused land and get additional income to take our children to school and better our households” adds Yosefina, a mother of four children and first wife of Mzee Yusuph.

“We are planning to use a portion of our lands as collateral to take a bank loan in order to improve our lives. We are truly happy with this decision as it has brought peace and understanding in our family. And this has made us love our husband even more for listening and supporting our decision” says Mama Mazena with a smile.


CSOs and the fight against harmful traditional practices

For years, Iringa has been one of the most backward regions in Tanzania when it comes to rights, welfare, and position of women in the society. Despite efforts by the government and its agencies to curb harmful traditional practices, the challenge is still a heavy burden to bear. This is where the civil society stepped in to lend a helping hand to efforts to bring about positive change to communities in the region.


“After a considerable assessment, we concluded that these harmful traditional practices are not only oppressive and a hindrance to women and girls but also it was a problem rooted so deep in our society that it was difficult for the government alone to address. And the worse thing is that women and children were the most affected” says Silvanus Juma, an official with TARWOK.

He adds “Our society allowed these oppressive practices to weigh heavily on women on land rights with a belief that ‘women are meant to inherit from their husbands’. Technically, this belief completely cuts off and disowns women from their birth family. And worse of all, they were also not allowed to inherit or own land from their husbands”


Fighting these harmful and oppressive traditional practices, particularly women land rights, is the responsibility of all stakeholders in society. TARWOK received capacity development assistance and a development grant from Foundation for Civil Society to implement a specific initiative in 45 Villages in 12 Wards of Iringa region. The core activities in the project included community awareness and education campaigns, advocacy through community meetings, social gatherings and through local media – one Iringa-based radio station was central in this.


Others activities included awareness, training and education campaigns on the Marriage and Land Acts and the role, position and place of women in the society vis-a-vis land rights. The project also facilitated the recruitment of community land volunteers in 60 villages (one in each). These were provided with special training and capacity building on how to dispense their community responsibilities.

At the Ward level, the project provided capacity building services to Ward Land Tribunals to 12 Wards in Iringa District. These included training on the very crucial Marriage and Land Acts regarding the role and place of women. Also, they carried out advocacy campaigns to local government leaders (LGAs), in every Ward, including Councilors, village, social, religious and traditional leaders.


Benefits to communities

By mid-2019, a total of 232 women got their Certificate of Customary Rights of Occupancy (CCROs) in three villages: Magubike (48), Wangama (88) and Igula (63). Most interesting is the fact that 32 out the total CCROs issued were for women who had paid from their own pockets for the service. The project also facilitated the establishment of 9 women groups and further provided training to a total of 41 groups on entrepreneurship, life skills, and women land rights.


At the village level, the project facilitated the establishment of Land Registries to four villages (Ikuvilo, Lumuli, Kipera, and Holo). In the end, this has seen an increased number of women seeking remedy on their land rights claims through these registries and Ward Land Tribunals, with 15 women cases reported by the time this report was being compiled. This indicates a community buy in resulting from successful awareness campaigns regarding women understanding of land rights issues and procedure to follow up with relevant authorities.


In total, the project has reached 60 villages. Additionally, 8 villages got their Land Registries commissioned (Igula, Magozi, Ndiwili, Isaka, Nyang’oro, Ilolo Mpya, Mkulula, and Mawindi) while three (Mikong’wi, Uhoming’yi and Isupilo) are already working hard to establish theirs. They have asked for technical guidance and assistance from TARWOK.


More challenges remain

There are still many challenges facing the project. One major hindrance has been a promise by another CSO to process land ownership for villagers for free, which technically nullifies the work of TARWOK which focused on empowering communities to contribute for the service. This has caused confusion to some villagers.

Also, implementation has recorded challenges associated with limited funding and time for implementation. These have limited the reach of the project to many communities, meaning more effort is invested for little project coverage area, hence lacking value for money for the grant. Generally, these challenges have limited project performance and efficacy at operational and monitoring & evaluation levels.