(Xinhua) -- In Namibia’s northern Omusati region,
Esra Kuutumbeni toils on her pearl millet field as she hopes for
improved yields of the staple crop, following a dry spell the
“I wake up early to work on my field
to ensure that weeds do not out grow my crops. I want to be
food sufficient, sell surplus and be an independent woman,”
Kuutumbeni has been farming on this
land for nearly 20 years, but has only owned full access to the
land since late 2005.
When Kuutumbeni’s husband died in
2004, she nearly lost her farming land to male relatives.
“My elderly son was already married. Traditionally, when my
husband passes on and son is married, an elderly uncle was
supposed to take over his land and I shall go back to my
mother’s household,” Kuutumbeni said.
She was thwarted. She was saved from
her ordeal when she heard of the enactment of the Communal Land
Reform Act by the Namibian government in 2002 that allows
ownership for agricultural land by women.
“Although my male counterparts had
instigated a fight against me owning their “ancestral land”
as they claimed at the time, I learned on radio of this new
Act that protects women. As luck would have it for me, the
traditional authority was aware of the Act, defended my case
and that’s how I now have land to farm on,” she shared on
Cases like that of Kuutumbeni are not
unique to Namibia. Traditionally, women in Africa had been
barred from owning land they tirelessly work on.
To deliberate on this social
challenge, government officials from Sub-Saharan countries
gathered at conference on land ownership rights under the theme
of One world, no hunger, strengthening women’s land ownership
rights in sub-Saharan Africa, recently held in Namibian capital,
The land tenure and land ownership
rights for women conference looked at how to enhance land rights
for women in Sub-Saharan Africa.
According to Priscilla Boois, Deputy
Minister of Land Reform, ownership of land remains an elusive
dream for the majority women in Sub-Sahara as customary laws and
land tenure in most African countries makes it difficult for
woman to own land despite their hard work on such lands.
“Traditionally, women were seen to
live through their male relatives or spouses. Widows had no
secured rights to remain on communal homes and land but to
apply for re-allocation to the traditional authority at a
fee,” Boois said during the conference.
In the case of Namibia, this has
improved since independence and more women own land.
Meanwhile, in Namibia, of the 70
percent country’s population depending agricultural land for
livelihood, women account for 59 percent of people engaged in
skilled and subsistence agriculture according to national
This shows the central role played by
women in agriculture and thus the importance of securing land
rights for women through policies and good governance, argued
Louise Shixwameni, Director in the Office of the Prime Minister.
She called on policy makers to ensure
harmony of laws and legal provisions on land access and
ownership rights, especially for women.
“What women need are basic rights to
be entrenched in the constitution and for equal rights of
property ownership to be clearly stipulated in the law. It’s
not about saying that men and women have equal access; they
need to be entrenched in the law, distinctly. It is
therefore necessary for countries in Sub-Sahara like Malawi
and Mozambique to bring all inheritance and land laws in
harmony with the constitution,” Shixwameni said.
According to the Director, it is
through harmonized policies that would ease the burden of women,
and enable them women like Kuutumbeni to build sustainable
lives. Evidently, unlike many women who lost and rights to male
relatives before the enactment of the Act in 2002, Kuutumbeni
could retain her land rights in accordance with the Act.
In the interim, while the conference
delegates seek for amicable solutions, Kuutumbeni is glad that
women have access to land.
“I wouldn’t know how I could have been
able to enhance my livelihood without land. Now that I am
given a chance to my own land, I even earn an income from my
surplus. That’s the greatest empowerment that the Communal
Land Reform Act gives to women,” she said as she continues
to toil on her land.