Rural women in Zimbabwe contribute immensely to the economic development of the country through agrarian development both at subsistence and commercial levels. Women make up the largest proportion of farm laborers and their role in utilizing land through crop production, livestock care for the sustenance of families can not be undervalued.
The recently held National Constitutional Conference on Women’s Access and Control of Land and other Natural resources was a crucial event as the majority of rural women in Zimbabwe (86%) depend on land for their livelihoods. Women from different parts of the country converged in Harare to review the current status and challenges faced by women in land ownership, access and control in Zimbabwe. The Conference agreed that Section 23 of the current Constitution needs to be repealed as it permits discriminatory customary laws that limit women’s ownership, access to and control of land. It was also agreed that The Rural Land Act and the Agricultural Land Settlement Act must be amended to provide clear, non-discriminatory criteria for the allocation of resettlement land.
It is disappointing to note that women continue to have limited access to and control over land, a key productive resource for women’s empowerment. Despite their contribution to food security for the nation, women own fewer productive assets than their male counterparts. As noted by the Ministry of Lands and Rural Resettlement during the conference, the majority of women with access to land do so through marriage. In communal areas, women do not own land in their own right but through their husbands. As a result of this limited ownership of land, women derive fewer benefits from proceeds of their labor and have no decision-making power in the household. In most instances, cheques for farm produce sales that are in the name of male landholders have been spent without the spouse’s involvement.
Patriarchy plays a huge role in undermining women’s rights to land and other natural resources. Men dominate land redistribution structures like land commission and committees and tend to allocate land to fellow men during land distribution exercises. There is need to revisit the key procedures in land allocation to ensure non discrimination of women.
If Zimbabwe is to meet the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), in particular, Goal 1, to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, women’s rights to land should be prioritized. As an agro based economy, there is need to ensure equity between women and men in the allocation of productive resources. Government’s commitment should go beyond simply putting policies but monitoring how women’s ownership and control of land and other natural resources is taking place on the ground.