WOMEN AND LAND: Gender Politics in Customary Land Governance

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Uganda has a comprehensive legal, policy and institutional framework designed to guarantee rights of women in the country. The Constitution has a number of provisions that secure women’s rights. Article 21 provides for equality and freedom from discrimination. Artcle 26 provides for protection from deprivation of property—land inclusive. Article 32 provides for affirmative action in favour of marginalized groups.

When it comes to governance, Article 33 provides for rights of   women and sub-article (4) states that “Women shall have the right to equal treatment with men and that right shall include equal opportunities in political, economic and social activities.”
Regarding land, a number of institutions have been established under the law to govern this valuable asset and these include; Uganda Land Commission, District Land Boards and Area Land Committees. There are slots secured for women in all these government structures.

However, for purposes of this post, I will focus on Communal Land Associations–a structure established under the law to manage communal lands held under customary tenure.
The Land Act requires that at least three out of the nine members of the executive committee of any CLA must be women.
The spirit behind these provisions is to enhance the participation of women in land administration and management. This is also in line with the Constitutional provisions highlighted above

While working in Karamoja, I participated in the process of mobilizing the local communities to form Communal Land Associations. My oversight role in this noble exercise availed me a priceless opportunity to observe and analyze the practicality of these legal principles in Karamoja region.

The first striking case was at a community meeting in one of the villages in Kaabong district—North of Karamoja. In my usual opening address, I explained the legalities involved in CLA formation; the procedures and requirements with emphasis on the membership to the executive committee. After my address, everybody clapped for me (which ordinarily implies appreciation of the message) but I was in for a rude shock in the subsequent discussions!

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Ms. Sabina Kodet, an LC I official from Nacument Parish in Bokora County, Napak District addresses a community meeting. Such articulate women should be empowered to participate in land governance as well

People were asked to nominate names for election to the Executive Committee. In a snap shot, nine people were proposed for consideration. All were men. I objected and emphatically reminded them of the legal requirement. Everybody fell dead silent save for the rustling of the leaves of the tree under which we sat.

After labouring through the requirements again, community members grudgingly accepted to replace some male nominees with females. Some elders openly argued that having a woman as a representative of a minor clan (numerous minor clans form a sub-clan) was as good as having no representative because land issues are for men not women. They reminded me (and I personally observed this) that even the women the law is forcing them to include in governance structures will be mere listening posts with no input at all to offer to the discussions.
They further stated that very few women will attained future CLA meetings compared to men. When I probed, the common explanation was that it is the men who had the information on land and absence of women was inconsequential. Even in those few meeting where the women attended, they played a largely passive role.

From this experience, one clearly sees that the role of women in land administration and management is still lacking. Where the law prescribes a minimum number, it is instead taken as the maximum. No community that we interacted with nominated beyond three women (the MINIMUM requirement) to their structure. In fact arriving at the three alone was such a tall order!!!

After Session

The writer, (holding a blue notebook) dances with Karamojong former warriors after a land rights sensitization meeting in Nakapaelimoru Sub-County, Jie Country, Kotido District (April 2013). Community sensitization is one way the writer believes can go a long way in opening people’s minds to support women to participate in land administration and management

This calls for a more innovative approaches in tackling the issue of women participation in land-related issues and governance as a whole. This approach should partly deviate from the conventional emphasis on quantity and instead tackle the qualitative aspects as well. It should focus on empowering women, regardless of their numbers to articulate cross-cutting issues that are easily embraced by the male-dominated society. It requires intensive sensitization of the men to appreciate the biologically proven fact women, just like men posses the intellectual prowess to contribute to the good governance and well-being of our society when an equal platform is available.

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