by Gaynor Paradza
In 2019, Zimbabwe embarked on a long-awaited land policymaking process.
The Land Policy’s emphasis on gender sensitivity echoes global recognition and acknowledgement of the strategic importance of land as a resource for men and women in Zimbabwe. Land is an important asset for women in Zimbabwe because of their limited access to economic opportunities, high reliance on the resource for their livelihoods and women’s responsibility of feeding and nurturing family and community members.
This article uses the experiences of women in various positions in communal areas of Zimbabwe to highlight how they experience land vulnerability at different levels than their male counterparts.
Women secure land in communal areas through their relationship with a man as a sister, mother, niece, aunt or wife.
Men on the other hand are eligible for customary land rights on marriage and inheritance.
The gender bias in land governance and allocation renders women’s land holdings insecure.
Previously women were accommodated within the family land as a wife, mother or sister.
However, the situation of women has been changing as a result of the migrant labour system, which resulted in the migration of men from rural areas to urban areas leaving women alone in the rural areas. The church’s influence also led to the decline in polygamous marriages and contributed to the number of women heading their own households in rural areas.
HIV and Aids-induced mortality witnessed a spike in the number of women living on their own as widows and the economic independence of women following the attainment of independence in 1980 also contributed to the number of women heading households.
This is the basis for advocating for independent land rights for single women in communal areas. There are other reasons.
Zimbabwe is a signatory to international and regional protocols that include the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, International Convention on Economic Social and Cultural Rights, International Convention on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention for the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination Against Women, United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, World Conference on Women’s Beijing Declaration, Africa Union Framework and Guidelines, African Union Guiding Principles on Large Scale Land Based Investments, and the Sustainable Development Goals.
These protocols oblige the government of Zimbabwe to put in place measures to ensure that women have equal access to natural resources like land on the same terms as their brothers, fathers, spouses and uncles.
A system that discriminates against women violates the international and regional provisions and undermines women’s basic human rights.
The Zimbabwe constitution of 2013 provides for equal land access for men and women.
In conformity with the country’s supreme law, all state institutions and agencies are obliged to ensure that men and women have access to land and natural resources on an equal basis.
Any institution or practice that undermines this provision is in violation of the laws of the country.
Women need secure access to land in customary land tenure areas so they can grow their food to feed themselves and their family.
Women need land so they can have a place to live and construct their residence.
Women need secure land rights so they can have a burial place.
When women have secure land rights in a communal land, they can have access to forests for harvesting fruits, medicine and firewood.
They can also accumulate livestock and benefit from the grazing lands.
Women can use land to generate income, access credit and agricultural inputs as well as negotiating access to markets.
Land provides women with access to a basic asset for negotiating access to other natural resources and agricultural assets.
Land control increases women’s ability to invest in land and enter into agricultural contracts.
The much publicised anecdotes about women taking their lives at the end of the cotton harvests are a consequence of women’s limited control of land and decisionmaking over land and produce.
When women have secure land rights, they are recognised as members of the community that they live in.
This recognition as a community member enables the women to have a sense of belonging, to connect with their ancestors and sacred places.
The community membership enables them to benefit from community level reciprocal arrangements like nhimbe, zhunde, support with child-rearing and social support during bereavements and illness in the family. […]