Charles Darwin once stated that if the misery of the poor be caused not by the laws of nature, but by our institutions, great is our sin. Darwin in his book ‘Voyage of Beagle’, postulate that these deeds are done and palliated by men, who profess to love their neighbours as themselves, believe in God and pray that his will be done on Earth! It indeed makes one’s blood boil witnessing how women in rural areas continue to languish in penury.
According to one District Official, land wrangles, disputes and evictions in the districts of Hoima and Buliisa are becoming a ‘normal’ thing’. Land in the rural areas is a symbol of identity and belonging and is essential for livelihoods and well being of many.
Article 26 of the Uganda 1995 Constitution stipulates that every person has a right to own property either individually or in association with others. It is followed by Article 33w which advocates for women empowerment and provides a legal framework for gender equality.
However, in reality, two decades after it came into force, it is evident that women scarcely benefit from these legal elements. The 2001 and 2004 Land Act amendments provides for the protection of spouses by right of occupancy on family land. Sadly, even with these amendments, the Act does not still address the issue of co-ownership rights!
Whereas the National Land Policy 2013 acknowledges the inadequacies in the existing land laws, it does not also advocate for women land rights; but recommends a basis upon which Government can take steps to redress discrimination and disparate impact and suggests for law reform and practice change at the policy implementation level. Arguably, I would will not blame the lack of enforcement for the continuous land disputes but will state that a contributing factor is lack of knowledge of the citizenry regarding their land rights.
A recent report titled ‘Spousal Consent Section in the Land Act in safeguarding women land rights; case study of Hoima district’ reveal that 75 per cent the 100 respondents are not aware of their land rights. It reports that one of the key problems relating to women and land rights is the lack of knowledge, especially on their statutory rights.
The report further reiterates a key issue previously raised by scholars; that women for ages have been denied rights to access, utilize and own lands. They have been disenfranchised by the existing patrilineal system and prevailing male chauvinism regarding land ownership. This ideology that land belongs to men has played a significant role in disenfranchising women from owning, accessing and utilizing land and hence has negatively impacted on women land rights.
It is also evident that communal tenure is slowly fading and rich and unscrupulous persons have also capitalised on the ignorance of land rights in these area to either grab land or buy it cheaply. Most efforts geared to solve this injustice however seem to have hit a dead end!
In all sense of aphorism and axiomatic assertion, giving women access to land will be a commanding means to battle poverty and hunger. So; whereas it would be prudent to commend the Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development for trying to address the land issues, there should be a collective effort among all actors including parliament, if Uganda is to realize this long post dream! Often, there is a level of autonomy and empowerment and security that comes with knowing your rights and being able to act accordingly!