Women make around 60% of Zimbabwe’s population, most lack equal access to land, property ownership
As Zimbabwe’s 1970s liberation war veterans seized white-owned farms about two decades ago, now 71-year-old Danisa Njovo suddenly became a proud owner of a five-hectare farm in Chakari area in the country’s Mashonaland west province. But although Agness, his wife, fought alongside her husband during the war, she owns nothing, not even the couple’s urban home in Kadoma.
Kadoma is a Zimbabwean town, 140 kilometers west of Harare, the country’s capital.
For many like 67-year-old Agness, because she is a woman, even claiming her compensation as one of the fighters during the war did not give any result, she said.
Even today, Agness said, she is amongst millions of women in this Southern African nation, who despite making significant contribution to agriculture on land literally owned by their male counterparts, still have no ownership rights to the farms, the means of production.
“I work on the farm with my children, a farm in my husband’s name and he is the one who goes to the market with our products and nothing in terms of property or land is in my name”, Agness told Anadolu Agency.
Similar to Agness, many women in Zimbabwe in both urban and rural areas have continued to bemoan unfair access to land and properties as they are sidelined.
Farms are being seized from white farmers, but do not benefit the country’s majority of women although the women make greater part of the country’s population with 60%, according to women rights organizations speaking on Zimbabwe’s land question.
Yet the UN’s new sustainable development goals that guide development efforts recognize the significance of property rights for women like Agness all over the world, mainly in rural areas.
According to Zimbabwe’s constitution, everyone has the right, in any part of the country, to procure, hold and dispose of all forms of property, either individually or in association with others irrespective of their sex, gender or marital status.
Even then, the Southern African country is a signatory to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women of 1979, the Beijing Platform for Action of 1995 and the SADC Gender and Development Declaration of 1997.
Despite Zimbabwe’s laws dispelling myths around gender disparities in terms of land and property ownership, the country’s rural women still stand out as the worst affected, according to rights activists.
“Poverty is worse amongst Zimbabwean women from rural communities because they make significant contribution to agriculture and are the mainstay of farm labor yet they own nothing nor earn anything from what they produce,” Catherine Mkwapati, a Zimbabwean feminist and director of the Youth Dialogue Action Network — a local civil society organization — told Anadolu Agency.
Meanwhile, Zimbabwe, whose economy is agro-based, has 39.6 million hectares land area, very little of it owned by women.
Zimbabwe has an estimated population of 14 million people. According to country’s Gender and Women Affairs Ministry, out of roughly 14 million population, an estimated nine million are women of which 70% live in poverty.
For women rights activists like Mkwapati: “Zimbabwean men in particular continue to own land, govern women’s labor and make agricultural decisions supported by masculine social systems”.
The majority of women lack property ownership, and “women’s access to land is only through their husbands, fathers, brothers or sons,” said Mkwapati.
Trapped in similar situations, many Zimbabwean women have ultimately found it hard to gain equal access to land and property even under the country’s Fast Track Land Reform Program.
But corruption has also played a role in disadvantaging Zimbabwe’s women in land and property ownership, according to women rights organizations such as the Zimbabwe Women Lawyers Association.
“Zimbabwean women always and often are discriminated against in land ownership owing to factors like lack of access to capital, failure to get credit, lack of collateral, customary restrictions, and even lack of knowledge on how they can get land and title deeds,” Marylin Chikwaka, a lawyer from the Zimbabwe Women Lawyers Association, told Anadolu Agency.