In the predominantly women-owned agricultural lands of Serenje District in Zambia's Central Province, home of the Lala people, a lesser-known form of Gender-Based Violence (GBV) has been unfolding for several years. Large-scale land acquisitions, often without compensation, have put the rural women of Serenje at risk of not only losing their ancestral land but also facing economic GBV.
The vast arable lands nurtured and sustained by generations of women are sought after by commercial entities under the pretext of economic development. As these women face the possibility of losing their land, it becomes abundantly clear that there is a deep connection between land dispossession and GBV.
Women are disproportionately affected by land dispossession. They are primarily responsible for subsistence farming and the nutritional well-being of their families. Relegating them to unliveable areas far from their fields and water bodies is equivalent to sentencing them to a slow and painful death. Food production declines, and the longer distances they cover to access water make them an easy target of physical and sexual violence attacks.
Their lands are not just a source of livelihood. They are spaces where the cultural matrilineal identity of the Lala people is rooted. Their land is their wealth. It allows the women to retain some power in their communities and gives them economic security. Taking away their land is taking away generations of communal living where elderly feeble women have historically found social support, exposing them to an even greater risk of violence.
In response to this, with the support of the Southern Africa Litigation Centre, some women in Serenje are using legal action to resist the threats to their economic stability and confront the associated human rights violations. These women are fighting against land acquisitions which undermine their property rights. However, their legal battle is not just about land ownership. It is a move to assert their right to live free from violence, even if it takes the form of dispossession. By fighting for their lands, the bold women are also fighting to reclaim their power and assert their contributions, accentuating the urgent need for united action against GBV.
As the women of Serenje continue to embark on their respective legal journeys, they carry the hopes and aspirations of women in similar circumstances worldwide. The cases present an opportunity to highlight the often-overlooked link between land dispossession and gender-based violence. They are a reminder that the fight for justice is not limited to the physical but extends to the very essence of what it means to be a woman in rural Zambia. Their fight underscores that there is #NOEXCUSE, including a drive for economic development, that justifies any form of violence that threatens the enjoyment of a peaceful and prosperous life.
By Emmanuela Sakala - Research Consultant