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Tanzanian women talk about land

Women's Land Dialogue. Photo: Marc Wegerif/Oxfam
Women's Land Dialogue

In Morogoro, Tanzania, Oxfam held a series of Women’s Land Dialogues – opportunities for rural women to discuss how their land and property rights can be improved.

Women sat on benches under the shade of trees, surrounded by small mud huts with grass roofs. The colourful mix of clothing styles illustrated the diversity of Kwambe village, including small farmers from a number of ethnic groups and pastoralists who are mostly Masai.

“The Women’s Land Dialogues are an opportunity to discuss land issues and to learn,” Zenais Matemu of Oxfam explained. “We can learn from the good examples and from the problems women face with land. Women produce the food, but they produce it on land that they do not have strong rights to.”

Nearly 200 women and men attended the day’s event. Some women shared how they have lost land. After Jenny’s husband passed away, a dam was built on her land. She was not compensated and there were never even any negotiations with her. It happened in 2003 but this was the first time she had shared the story – for years she had kept quiet, but today she was animated and bitter about what had happened.

Would it still have happened if her husband had been alive? “No,” she said, without hesitating. “They would have been afraid of him.”

A young woman challenged the leaders directly, saying, “Women don’t get assistance from the village leaders and government if they do not have money.” The loud cheer from the crowd confirmed that this is a common experience.

Elisabeth Photo: Marc Wegerif/Oxfam
Elisabeth

Elisabeth told the meeting how land on which she and her husband grazed their livestock had been sold to someone from Dar es Salaam (the Tanzanian capital). The village leaders denied selling the land, but the issue has still not been resolved.

On a more positive note we heard from a man called Shukrani. He explained how he gave his wife, Christina, a substantial piece of land where she grows maize. Christina confirmed that the land is hers. Shukrani’s logic was that Christina works the land and supports the family, and will do so whatever happens in their relationship – so it makes sense for her to control the land.

Similar examples had been shared in the village of Ludewa-Giongo, where another Women’s Land Dialogue was held a few days earlier. In that meeting we also heard from five single women who have done so well at farming that the village authorities allocated land to them.

Later we discussed how to end violence against women. The session revealed that many men and women accept the use of violence against women who are believed to have done something wrong. Some did argue that violence is wrong and communication rather than force is needed to reach agreement, and hopefully by the end of the session more people had come to agree!

There was a lot of singing and a Masai women’s group performed the traditional Masai “jumping dance” – more commonly associated with men. Another group sang a song about women claiming their rights and the ability of women to produce food and, amongst other things, send their children to school.

Juliet from the Tanzania Women Lawyers Association explained the land laws and the procedures for women to assert their rights, emphasising that, “Women should not stay at home when the village is discussing land issues. Tall or short, all women, come and raise your voices.” Closing the event, the (male) Village Chairperson promised that his office will always be open to listen to them.

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Written by Marc Wegerif

Marc Wegerif

Marc Wegerif coordinates Oxfam's Economic Justice campaign in East Africa, working with partners to bring about fair policies for small farmers, pastoralists and communities affected by climate change. He is based in Tanzania

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  1. i really liked the idea of bringing rural women together to share their experiences, learn from others that they can share whatever problems they are facing. my experience working with rural women has shown me that rural women are very shy or they think that as women they are supposed to endure any problem thay come acrross just like what the widow whose land was taken and a dam built without even consulting her. issues of women’s land rights are similar every where in Africa and this is affecting women. there is need for awareness raising to increase the recognition of women’s land rights as well as to sensitise the women themselves as some of them are not aware that they have these rights. the issue of women’s land rights is an issue at my heart. i grew up in a rural communal areas where my mother would work very hard on the land and the fame would go to my father who would come and decide what to do with the proceeds from the field. I am now forty years old and this is still happening to many women out there. we need to do something, women develop the land and recognition is given to the husband because ‘he is the owner of the land’ and the woman can any time be asked to leave the premise, yes i can go and start over but i am not as young and energenic as i was when i worked to develop that piece of land.

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