Individual small-scale women farmers in Zimbabwe are resilient against the odds. They are the backbone of the smallholder agricultural sector and feed the nation by being the main producers and processors of food. In Zimbabwe, 70% of agricultural labour is provided by women, women make up 70% of the rural population, and 86% of those in farming activities are women (MWAGCD Gender Policy). However despite women doing most of the work on the land they often face the biggest battle to call this land their own. Zimbabwean women are much less likely to own or be secure on their land compared to men. This is true for both customary land, and resettled land. While huge steps forward have been made at national and international level to redress historic and colonial gender injustices, the reality is that women are still last in line for land and other productive resources.
Women need stronger rights to land so they can:
• Feed their families. Given women’s caring role, they are generally responsible for household food security and nutrition; therefore, their access to land for food production is critical to the welfare of the entire household.
• Feed their communities. When women have equal access, ownership and control over land and other productive resources, their crop yields increase by 20-30% (FAO). This is untapped potential we cannot afford to ignore – especially in the face of the current food crisis.
• Turn farming into a business: When women are secure on their land, they have the incentive and ability to invest in that land – turning farming into a business. Small-scale producers themselves as the biggest investors in their own operations, and women are more likely to invest in land when they don’t live in fear of losing it.
• Access other means of production: Women with land have the capacity to mobilise seed, fertiliser and credit. They can join small-scale producer groups through which they can mobilise further resources, undertake collective marketing for better bargaining power, or procure inputs as a group. They can also use land as a platform for negotiating access to government-based assistance.
• Build more resilient communities: For smallholder farmers, land is both an asset and a form of social security. Women who are secure on their land are better able to cope with all kinds of shocks – from drought, climate-change, to economic shocks.
• Achieve equality in other areas of their lives: Control of land increases women’s bargaining power in the households and places where they live. Women need land as it is a source of identity, empowerment, and social status.
• As a form of social insurance: Women need land for insurance as they negotiate the challenges imposed by their situations, being sometimes shuttled between their place of birth and their conjugal relationships.
Women may have equal rights on paper:
• Zimbabwe is a signatory to the 2003 Maputo Protocol to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights on Women’s Rights, which requires African states to “promote women’s access to and control over productive resources such as land and guarantee their right to property”. The revised SADC Protocol on Gender and Development contains the same commitment (article 18). The new Zimbabwean Constitution recognizes men and women as equal citizens in every respect. It provides the framework for equal land rights, but does not have adequate mechanisms for implementing these provisions.
Yet in reality women face many challenges:
Women in communal areas
• In communal areas, women’s access, ownership and control of land is entirely determined by men: The majority of Zimbabwe’s population live in customary tenure areas – where land is governed by patriarchal systems. As a result, men are the primary land-holders, and women negotiate access to land through their male relations – relying on fathers, brothers, husbands, uncles or male-dominated traditional authorities for land.
• This means women lose out: Customary tenure is the least secure for women who hold derived land rights. Land has become increasingly contested, with population shifts, and displacements for mining activities, and women are generally worst placed to re-negotiate agricultural land. Women often experience gender based violence and/or sexual abuse in their bid to reclaim their rights (TI Zimbabwe)
Women in resettled areas
• Men benefited more from land reform: Despite women making up 70% of the rural population, only 18% of beneficiaries of A1 land reform and 12% under A2 are women – which the government considers falls short of the gender parity ideal (MWAGCD Gender Policy). While women have also benefited through marriage – by being able to access land that is registered in their husband’s name – they often lack control over what to grow, and what to do with the proceeds.
• Barriers to joint registration: Although land registration in resettlement areas provides for the registration of both spouses, and the government has requested that all names be written on the A1 offer letter, husbands are often reluctant to jointly register the land. In some cases, women also perpetuate patriarchal practices by opting to register their land in the name of their son or brother. (AIAS, 2016)
• Tenuous tenure: Both men and women who gained land under the fast-track land reform programme still need stronger tenure guarantees for their own security or to facilitate for increased investment as appropriate.
• Land disputes disproportionately affect women: Where conflicts occur, women are ten times more likely to be targeted. Recent survey evidence showed that 40% of female landholders in resettlement areas continue to experience conflicts which are related to ownership of land and farm boundaries, and eviction threats from their land in comparison to 4.1% for men (AIAS, 2014)
• Men dominate the means of production – whether this is livestock, seeds, chemicals, family labour, credit, or agricultural equipment. (AIAS, 2016)
• Extension services are not female-friendly. The majority of extension staff are still male – making it difficult for female farmers to consult the service provider due to cultural norms. The way in which most extension services are provided –i.e. on-farm demonstrations – makes it difficult for women to benefit as their other household responsibilities prevent them from spending long periods of time on their farms. (WARESA)
• Women are most at risk from climate change – limited access to productive resources, combined with women’s disadvantaged position in society increases their vulnerability to climate change impacts.
KEY ASKS TO THE ZIMBABWEAN GOVERNMENT
1. Close the gap between law and practice:
a. Implement policies to promote women’s access to and control of productive resources such as land, and ensure extension support, markets and financial services work for women.
b. Accommodate more women in land allocations that might be freed up by the land audit. Consolidate the gains and momentum of land reform in ways that ensure equitable apportionment of the benefits.
c. Ensure equal representation for women in land related decision-making structures
2. Close gaps in existing legal frameworks:
a. Take affirmative action: rectify gender discrimination and imbalances resulting from past policies and practices by considering a target for women’s land ownership (ownership being either sole or joint ownership with a spouse).
b. Harmonise policies and laws governing land in a way that protects women – ensure laws and policies governing lands, mining, environment and local government speak to each other, so that women do not fall through gaps. Establishing a cadastre of Zimbabwe’s land will help this.
c. Align customary law with the new Zimbabwean constitution. Ensure customary code is interpreted in line with the spirit and letter of the new constitution. Articulate and protect women’s land rights in customary tenure areas by recognising and promoting progressive practices and reversing regressive institutions and practices that expose women to vulnerable situations.
d. Engender the Land Commission Bill – which covers agricultural land – so that it contributes to the achievement of gender equality in Zimbabwe. Ways to do this include: making the land register public so that gender inequalities can be identified and dealt with; ensuring the practical independence of the Land Commission; and incorporating Statutory Instrument 53/14 – which is crucial to the rights of women in access, use and control of agricultural land – into the Act.
e. Sign and ratify the revised SADC Protocol on Gender and Development with 2030 targets.
3. Curb the negative impacts of climate change, and ensure the benefits of green growth flow to women
a. Women are key to the solution to the climate crisis – give us the opportunity to speak, listen to us and support us financially.