By: Patience Muserere
“My mother, my siblings and I are allocated the same piece of land to plough during the agricultural season. “My father beat me up because i could not finish ploughing the large portion of land that was allocated to me. We work very hard in the fields my mum is always working. I have always known that there is no school during the rainy season, tayirovheswa kuchikoro kuti tiinoswera kumunda. My mother was once found lying under a tree because she was tired of working, she needed a break. My father was very aggravated that he took a hoe nearby and struck my mother with it. Hanzi nababa pano hapasi pako he always reminds my mother that the land you are using is not yours. I remember we used to have cattle, goats, chicken. We would harvest a lot. To my amusement my father always said he did not have money to pay for my school fees, no matter how much we harvested and sold my mother was never given anything and my siblings and I were always being sent back home for not paying school fees. The money and the livestock were all gambled away
This short narrative by my friend’s babysitter is a true reflection of discrimination of women living in communal land areas. Land is one of the most fundamental resources to women’s living conditions. It is a source of economic empowerment and represents a key factor in the struggle for equity and equality. Challenges that women in communal lands face are a result of the polices that govern those areas. Women in marriages, single women, divorced and widowed women face similar challenges as they are deprived the privileges to access, control and use land to ensure better standards of livings. Women and children are the workforce in communal lands, they are the ones who work for food for consumption as well as the excess that is later sold, however they are the most vulnerable as they a susceptible to all sorts of discrimination. Rights to use and control of land are central to rural women’s livelihoods. Zimbabwe, like many Southern African countries, bases its land administration on a dual system, namely, state and customary tenure. Administration of land in rural areas is mainly based on the customary tenure, implying that traditional norms and cultural beliefs are the main determinants of decision-making. Under customary tenure land is communally owned and is allocated to male heads of families. Zimbabwean women have always lagged in agrarian and land reform programmes that have been initiated in the country since 1980. Land in communal areas is a resource governed under patriarchy that privileges male ownership. Under communal land ownership in rural areas women’s access to land is facilitated by their relationship to men.
There is need to strengthen legislation that allow women to administer recognized entitlements on land and property within and outside the marriage in communal lands. Land rights for women should not be accustomed to the private sphere of marriage and family but be made a public issue of human rights.