Customary Laws Blamed For Women’s Inaccessibility To Land Ownership

Stakeholders advocating for rights of women to access and own land

By Nformi Sonde Kinsai

A study conducted by the Centre for Environment and Development, CED, has revealed that customary laws and traditions are the main impediments on the way of the rights of women to access and own land.

The restitution of highlights of the study, results of other research findings and capacity building actions by CED on access of women to land, was the subject of a day-long workshop in Yaounde on March 3, that brought together development actors and interested parties on gender equality issues.

The women under scanner also included those in war or security crises situations where access to land is a determinant of their survival and that of the family.

In a context justification, the Secretary General of CED, Dr. Samuel Nguiffo, said, within the framework of the LANDCAM project, geared at securing land rights and resources as well as improving on management of forestry zones of Cameroon, CED; the Network for the Fight against Hunger, RELUFA, and the International Institute for Environment and Development, IIED; are working to promote gender equity in access to land and natural resources.

He noted that, in Central Africa in general and Cameroon in particular, women appear to be great users of land and pillars of agricultural development, but, in principle, they don’t have equal access to the resource compared to the men and thus don’t have any control on the pieces of land they exploit. Acknowledging variations in the situations, Nguiffo said the women in the majority have restricted and provisionary customary rights on land notably in the rural areas. He talked of as many as four studies and capacity building activities conducted by CED aimed at improving the land situation of women and the putting in place of measures for recognition and defence of their land rights. The activities were undertaken in diverse sites in order to grasp and draw lessons from the different cultural and economic contexts.

The CED Scribe said the study revealed that the major constraints to access and control of land as wished by the women is not only found at the level of custom and traditions, but equally the customary practices found here and there that target personal interests of some members of the community and in a general manner, representatives of the patriarch class.

“Paradoxically, an analysis conducted by CED on the land and forestry laws shows the shortcomings of these laws in the promotion of women’s rights. Without being discriminatory, they contain numerous germs of inequity in formulating general rights which take off from the principle that man and woman are equal. As formulated, these laws don’t take into account prior disequilibrium that relegates the woman to the second level in all sectors of life compared to man,” Dr. Nguiffo stated.

Nguiffo told reporters that the event was organised to coincide with festivities building up to the commemoration of the International Women’s Day observed every March 8, so as to bring to the limelight the ordeal women are facing to access and own land in Cameroon, especially in the rural areas.

He said the situation of women is compounded by the fact that they are to get married out of their families and communities and, therefore, giving land to them means the integrity of such landed property would be lost when they leave for marriage. He said they also discovered that, in communities where women are allowed to get married to their cousins, there are absolutely no problems for such women to become traditional owners of land. He said, with the evolution of the society, new solutions have to be adopted to resolve the land issues, reason discussions at the workshop bordered on recommendations they are suggesting to the ongoing land law reform commission.

Meanwhile, the Secretary General of the Southwest Chief’s Conference, His Majesty Dr. Robison Tanyi, who moderated the deliberations, said about 80 percent of land is found in rural areas where women don’t have access to and don’t own land as they are subjected to arbitrary customs and traditions.

He reiterated that the national land and forestry laws are non-discriminatory and, as traditional rulers, they are out to sensitise their peers and the community at large that, like men, women have rights to access and own land. 

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