12 October 2016

African Women Meet At Mount Kilimanjaro to Demand Rights

Photo: Diana Ngila/Daily Nation
From left to right: Former Justice Minister Martha Karua, Foreign Affairs and International Trade CS Amina Mohamed and Oxfam International executive director Winnie Byanyima during the opening of the African Women Leaders Symposium (file photo).

Rwandan rural women, together with their counterparts from various countries on the continent, will today convene at the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania in an effort to advocate for unrestricted women's rights to land and other natural resources across the continent.

Participants from Rwanda say they are taking part in the cause as a sign of solidarity with women from parts of Africa that continue to be discriminated against with regard to land ownership.

Officials believe that the 'Kilimanjaro initiative' offers a unique window of opportunity to unify and amplify the struggles of rural women across Africa.

The three-day event starts today in Moshi town. The women will climb Mountain Kilimanjaro as a sign to show their difficulties in land ownership.

A group of ten women was selected to represent women from various rural cooperatives countrywide, according to James Butare, head of programmes and policy at Action Aid, which is supporting the initiative.

He said the event is expected to be the largest rural women's land rights assembly ever seen at the foot of Mountain Kilimanjalo.

Women will share experiences on identifying and addressing key barriers to women's land rights such as early marriage, poor access to information, and unfair inheritance, among others.

Butare said that, while Rwanda has actively promoted equal rights on land, it is worthwhile to share experience with women from elsewhere on the continent, learn from them and share success stories.

Speaking at a news conference in Kigali over the weekend, Butare said that the event is important as it brings together women from various countries to share experiences.

"This is a solidarity action because, if women have land problems in some countries, women elsewhere are also affected. In Rwanda, we have reached 50 per cent when it comes to women rights to land ownership while others still claim just 30 per cent, this would be an opportunity for us to share experience while also learning from each other," he said.

With 2016 declared by the African Union as the Africa year of human rights with a particular focus on the rights of women, women movements believe that it is time for action.

"At the meeting women will produce a charter on demand for fair and equal rights and the charter will be presented to the African Union and United Nations for action," Butare noted.

Esperance Nyirahabimana, who hails from Karongi and one of participants, said they expected to learn a lot from the gathering.

"Though land rights in Rwanda have been promoted and women given equal rights as men, the main challenge we still have is a culture where some women still fear to claim their land rights and where some people have a misconception that both women and men can not have equal rights to property," she said.

"We shall learn from others how this can change."

The event will be attended by women from 20 African countries.

Catheline Katundu, Action Aid's land policy manager, said " The women gathering at Mount Kilimanjaro are saying 'enough is enough', we cannot continue to build our nations upon land that is then pulled from under us when it suits the whim of big business, an uncle seeking inheritance or local government."

A recent research study by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation indicated that less than one quarter of agricultural land in developing countries is controlled by women, while low female access and control of land significantly obstructs access to financial assets.

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