Zimbabwe: 'Women Not Aware of Their Land Rights'

Lack of education on the constitution for traditional leaders is the major setback in the upholding of women's rights, particularly on land ownership in rural areas, a new study has found.

The study titled Women and Land Rights in Zimbabwe, done by a team of Zimbabwean female academics, also found out that women in rural areas are still living under the shadow of the colonial era restrictions and cultural practices as the constitutional provisions that empower them to access land are not being implemented.

University of Zimbabwe law lecturer Elizabeth Lwanda-Rutsate was the lead researcher.

The researchers recommended the need for awareness campaigns targeting traditional leaders if women were to realise their constitutional land rights. The current practices, the research established, has left many women in vulnerable positions after their husbands die or when they try to claim their right to land.

"Traditional chiefs need to be trained on Constitutional rights, which are supreme to any cultural or customary practice in terms of Section 2," Lwanda-Rutsate told the Zimbabwe Independent in a recent interview.

Section 16 (1) of the constitution on Culture asserts that the State and all institutions and agencies of government at every level must promote and preserve cultural values and practices, which enhance the dignity, well-being and equality of Zimbabweans.

"It is only those cultural values that do not run counter to Section 56 of the constitution and enhance the dignity, well-being and equality of Zimbabweans that should be protected and where they fall short, Sections 2 and 80 come into play," the study reads.

Section 17(2) of the constitution on Gender Balance also states: "The State must take positive measures to rectify gender discrimination and imbalances resulting from past practices and policies."

"We are aware of the past discriminatory practices of denying girl children an education, past practices of only allocating land in communal lands to male household heads, past practices of property grabbing from bereaved widows; the list is endless," Lwanda-Rutsate said.

Currently, land in communal areas is still being allocated mainly to male household heads in direct contravention of the Constitution, according to the research, a situation which has necessitated the need for further education on the constitution.

"The state as the key duty bearer should embark on state driven national awareness campaign on gender equality and human rights in general as espoused in the Constitution as the Supreme law of the land. There is also a National Gender Policy whose provisions also need to be implemented," the study further reads.

"Despite seven years having lapsed after the constitution was ushered in, in 2013, it is a rarity to see women who are traditional chiefs and village heads. It is indeed a surprise to see a childless widow being allowed to continue working on the communal land allocated to her late husband by the village head as the male household head."

According to Section 56(6) of the constitution: The State must take reasonable legislative and other measures to promote the achievement of equality and to protect or advance people or classes of people who have been disadvantaged by unfair discrimination, and -- (a) such measures must be taken to redress circumstances of genuine need; (b) no such measure is to be regarded as unfair for the purposes of subsect.

"Women are not aware of their rights, the laws are progressive on paper but the lived realities of women depict a different situation where women still do not have access and control to both communal and resettled land. It can be noted that the laws are there and they are good in paper, but the enforcement and the implementation of those laws is still lagging," the study notes.

"For communal land, more gender sensitisation must be done to the traditional leaders and men who are the custodians of culture and tradition in these areas."

More From: Zimbabwe Independent

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