Malawi : Lack of awareness delaying progress of women land rights

le 22/10/2020

Despite several strides, to have equal access to land ownership between women and men, Malawi is yet to breakthrough in the land equality drive.

Women in the country continues to be victims of land grabbing among others in an event of death of a husband and also divorce.

All this is happening despite having a Customary Land Act in place, that is aimed at among others protecting and empowering women to own land.

A 36 year old, Eliza Fanuwelo from Mathambi Village, Traditional Authority (TA) Mabuka in Mulanje, divorced her husband of 6 years in 2015.

According to Malawi’s marriage act, the two were to equally distribute the wealth they had both accumulated while married to each other.

On the contrary, Fanuwelo came out of the marriage with just her children as the ex-husband took all the property saying he was the one working and providing for the family and hence the rightful owner of the property which included a farming land.

“I come from a matrilineal culture background where a man follows the wife to her homeland when they get married, however me and my husband chose to find a neutral place to build our family from and when we divorced, I was forced to leave everything with him saying I did not contribute much as he was the one working,” she said.

Even though, she said she has moved on, Fanuwelo who is now into vegetable selling business in Lilongwe, saying the experience still pains her because as a wife, she was supporting the homestead in so many ways.

According to Programme Manager for Circle for Integrated Community Development, Edward Thole, a lot of women in the country are going through similar experiences.
He added that there was a capacity gap among women in the country, as they are not aware of the existence of the Customary Land Act and what it entails.

“Women, especially from local communities are lacking some kind of awareness of their rights, even though the Customary Land Act of 2016 is still fairly new, there is a lot that needs to be done in terms of awareness by both the government and stakeholders,” Thole added.

He pointed out how culture was a setback to achieving a 50-50 situation for men and women in land equality, further suggesting how involving local players through introduction and capacity building of land committees and land tribunals could help make a difference in the quest to giving women in the country, a fair chance to own land.

Principal Secretary (PS) in the Ministry of Lands, Bernard Sande said his Ministry has set aside Land Reforms Project Implementation Unit to coordinate all activities pertaining the new land laws where so far civic and public engagements have been conducted.

He highlighted that the law was not stopping or discouraging any cultural practices.

“The law is simply giving women an opportunity to participate fully in land decision making structures which are currently being established, on land issue, the law is binding, while cultural customs are just rooted traditions hence encouraging patrilineal families to have their land registered in the names of children,” Sande explained.

According to the PS, the Ministry has so far trained customary land committees and tribunals where there is a 50-50 representation of both men and women in Nkhotakota, Karonga, Phalombe and Chikhwawa districts, among others in the country.

Malawi is a signatory to the Southern African Development Committee (SADC) Gender Protocol that talks about men and women’s equal access to property.


Source : Nellie Kapatuka Malawi News Agency