Rural women land rights in perspective

Rural women land rights in perspective

14 June 2019 Friday 11:50
Rural women land rights in perspective

By Azaniapost reporter

“Women in Tanzania are outright losers in all aspects of land rights. Civic organizations must conduct across-the-board sensitization programmes to turn the story around. Society is ignorant.”

This was a woman cry echoed in one local media outlet as the world marked this year’s International Women’s Day. The echo was that of a resident of Pangani, a historic area along the East African Coast with Swahili, Arab, German and British imprint on the western rim of the Indian Ocean.

Posting her career as a wheat pastry (chapati) hawker by the name of Fatma Mtungakoa, she blamed all this to public ignorance and male-dominated, highly discriminative systems against women.

Six days later, another media outlet ran a front page lead about a campaign mounted by the Ardhi University (ARU) land administration unit hinged on United Nations set out principles and standards for fair land governance, tagged VGGT for Voluntary Guidelines on responsible Governance of Tenure.

Among others, the UN guidelines recognize that women, who are already socially marginalized, are particularly vulnerable when land tenure governance is weak.

Fatma was and is still right. So is the UN. The concern of the Ardhi University land administration unit likewise.  The International Women’s Day, this year was celebrated the 107th time. The rationale of the 2018 theme --“Press for progress to help accelerate gender parity” – stood relevant as it was at the inception time more than a century back.    


Gender parity cannot be brought by the UN. Whatever leaves the corridors of this world institution can be only in terms of sensitization and recommendation. Beyond that, the UN has no mandate.  The application lies with every individual member state. It is not even regional. So, Tanzania must look inward to find out what makes the Fatmas cry out in particular for land rights equality and, thereafter, take action. 

In Tanzanian terms, a woman cry translates into a concern of slightly more than half of the population. Because the majority of Tanzanians live in rural areas, this concern is essentially rural. Some people may not appreciate this. But that is where the problem lies, and, therefore, the solution.

Rural land rights in Tanzania are so complicated that even those – women and men -- who raise this issue at essentially urban public rallies or UN-assisted workshops, keep quiet in the wake of pertinent challenges.

How many enlightened Tanzanian men can transfer ownership of their rural ancestral clan land held under trust to their daughters, wives let alone? How many enlightened Tanzanian women (even doctorate holders) can dream of owning land under their clan trust when customary laws don’t have this provision.

I am married, with children, including daughters. However much I love my wife and trust my daughters, there is no way I can transfer to anyone of them any land I hold in trust of my clan back home. Not even if I were the President of Tanzania, Minister for Lands or Chief Justice. This is only possible with land I hold within the urban setting under the right of occupancy laws and regulations, which are not bound by customary law regulations.

There is a need to go back to sociology and dig deep for answers. Throughout my age (I am looking for eighty) I have had three gender-related rural land rights experiences worth sharing.

 In his will, my maternal grandfather, about sixty years ago, “set aside part of his estate under the trust of the heir to the access of and use by present and future daughters to come.”  

His was a visionary will. Until today, daughters in succession have come, tended the allocated plantation, harvested, sold crops and shared proceeds equally; but with no land ownership transfer powers.

He also “set aside a plantation for the upkeep of his wife (my grandmother with whom he had two daughters) until her death when the land would revert to the heir.” Bearing girl children alone spelt dangers to the security of a mother in a marriage.   

At the end of the day, my maternal grandma had to spend her last lap of life with me, having left behind all that she had accumulated with her husband during her productive age. The state of her welfare to my grandfather’s second generation heir came to a stage where it was no longer an issue.

 When Tanzanian daughters marry, they are like grafts to in-laws clan families. They do not acquire full membership.  In a traditional Haya society, for example, families claimed back a daughter in the event of her husband’s death irrespective of whether she had borne children or not. It was all like a contract over.

I have a live example.  When my father died in 1972, maternal uncles formally asked us if we were ready and willing to stay with our mother. It sounded like a new marriage vow in the making. I abhor trying to recall or think of what could have happened to my mother in case we had declined.

On a gender note, is it a fair social arrangement for (male) children to decide the fate of their mother in the event of their father’s death? Can’t better options be found? Of course they can. The question is: How? 

The Tanzanian society must touch base with the past, make informed analysis and churn out home grown gender policy realization patterns.  In any case, what would we be looking for? Is it equity, equality or both? 

Equity was my grandfather’s line of choice. Until today, I do not remember any daughter on his family tree dying in want although none of them owned even one metre square of the Bubango clan land.

So, in his day, my grandfather did it.  Why not us today?

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