Uganda has received a $54 million loan from the World Bank to raise public awareness about land tenure, especially the rights of women to own land, Daudi Migereko, Uganda's Minister of Lands, Housing and Urban Development said on Monday.
The new loan coincides with a huge public demand for more information about land rights. Conflicts and protests are sweeping through Uganda over land ownership, land grabbing and displacement of long-time residents as the government grapples with economic development issues, agri-business investment and the discovery of oil and gas.
"As a Ministry of Lands, it is part of our duty to sensitise people about their rights and obligations in as far as land matters are concerned," Migereko said in an interview at the World Bank conference on Land and Poverty in Washington.
"We have been low on funding but fortunately, we recently procured a line of credit which will enable marginalised groups like women and clan groups to be in position to acquire rights over land just like individuals. The loan of $54 million which we are acquiring from the World Bank will help," he said.
Uganda has a long history of providing women legal rights to own land - under its constitution, the 1998 Land Act, the 2010 Land Amendment Act as well as the 2013 National Land Policy. But in practice, women continue to suffer marginalisation from their families and societies.
Women in Uganda frequently do not inherit land, do not hold joint title on land deeds or make decision on land. Migereko says while women need to learn the procedures of acquiring land, society needs to appreciate and acknowledge the fact that men and women have equal rights to land.
"We have to continue supporting women and create greater confidence that these rights are real," Migereko said.
Uganda is not alone in facing challenges over women's land rights, said Ayse Yonder, a land expert at the Pratt Institute in New York told the conference. While global policies recognise gender equality in ownership of land, there is little understanding of the difficulties women go through to access land and secure land tenure. Women have very limited access to financial credit to buy and own their own land or acquire titles, she said in reciting a list of difficulties that women face.
"Women are at the centre of climate change challenges. They are low wage earners, they are affected by customary and religious norms and they are not decision makers. They have no education and are limited by people in and out of their homes," Yonder said.
Citing one example, Rosemary Nangobi from Slum Women's Initiative for Development (SWID) in Uganda said that in the community of Jinja the municipal council granted residents the right to buy and own houses in the Walukuba Housing estate, but women could not afford them.
"Jinja Municipal Council was evicting women because they did not have access to money to buy the housing units. They could not access land titles, women did not know their rights," Nangobi said.
SWID negotiated with Jinja Municipal Council to allow women to pay by installment and today, 35 women have received title deed prints and land title verification documents, while another 120 are in process.
Migeroko said that Uganda is emphasising creating opportunities for women to access credit and ensuring free education at primary and secondary level.
"Once you have universalised access to education, a woman can be in a position to join the job market. You have income and you have disposable income which you can use, among other things, to acquire land and to acquire a title over that piece of land," he said.
Society needs to appreciate women's rights, as does the legal process so that when there is a problem, jurists can give interpretation, guidance and direction that would recognise and favor the women, he said.
Migeroko said this process will take time, but he is hopeful that World Bank loan will help improve people's understanding of women's rights to own land.
On ensuring an open and transparent land tenure system, the minister said people must stop looking at land as a cultural and social commodity but as an economic commodity. That way land reforms will help move people from a peasant society into a modern, industrialised society by focusing on producing for the market and moving into the monetary economy.
On the relationship between tenants and their landlords, Migereko said Uganda's 2010 Land Amendment Act gives tenants access to a land fund, allowing them to buy the land that they occupy when the actual land owner is not fully utilising the land.