Danai Chirawu
On  the 15th of October 2018, the world commemorated the International Day of the Rural Woman under the theme “sustainable infrastructure, services and social protection for gender equality and empowerment of rural women and girls.”

It is important that along with all the other days which are set aside to recognise women in their uniqueness, rural women are given their own special recognition because they have been previously forgotten in many conversations and considerations.

Generally, women are an important factor in food production and development of the national economy and more particularly, much of the human resource in agriculture in Zimbabwe is formulated by rural women. According to the National Gender Profile of Agriculture in Zimbabwe, rural women constitute seventy percent of household and family labour in rural communities.

Many women within this demographic are unpaid family workers and are often limited to subsistence farming. A view into the agricultural production chain will show that where there is produce for sale, rural women seek to make profit for the sustenance of the family as opposed to personal gain.

In ensuring that economic empowerment of rural women is realised the government has initiated different laws, policies and projects which directly benefit women, more so; rural women. These efforts are being echoed in the Zimbabwean laws pertaining to agricultural land.

Rural women in Zimbabwe make up a majority of small holder farmers within what are known as A1 farms. This type of agricultural land was birthed out of the need to ease pressure on the communal areas as well as afford assets to the poor.

The apportionment of A1 farms is guided by local customs and these customary systems determine how the land shall be administered and how conflict is adjudicated. The previous position with regards to rural land was that a woman would only have access to that land through a patrilineal source which means that she could only get land through her husband, brother or male member of the family.

The Constitution in Section 17 is very transparent about repealing harmful customary and cultural practices which hinder the realisation and promotion of gender equality and women’s rights and speaks specifically about women having equal access to opportunity and in this case land. The A1 farm thus allows for women to apply to be permit holders in their own right without any affiliation to a male.

An A1 farm holder has the right to occupy the land and use it for personal residential purposes, hold the land and use for agricultural and pastoral purposes. They can also develop the land and erect infrastructure and any other improvements which enables them to conduct their agricultural and/or pastoral business. These rights entail and afford a woman who is a permit holder is monopoly over the day today business of the farm and ultimately economic empowerment. A small holder farmer however does not have the right to sell this land but may transfer, lease or hypothecate it.

There remain gender inequalities even within these progressive laws. Patriarchy still dictates the order of the day for many rural communities and whereas the law is advocating for more women being given title over agricultural land, the reality is that land ownership in Zimbabwe is skewed towards men. The reins to rural agricultural land are still in the hands of traditional leaders, some whom may not necessarily be implementing gender inclusive policies with regards to distribution and land allocation.

The system may be additionally biased towards married women as they can be joint permit holders with their husbands unlike unmarried who suffer the double jeopardy of being women and single with no male affiliation. In addition, there is rural land which does not fall within the ambit of A1 farms wherein after the death of the husbands, widows are likely to suffer being returned to ‘their own people’ and are stripped of the land they raised their family and would partake in subsistence farming on. While there are still these inconsistencies, Statutory instrument 53 of 2014 brought forth with it evolved policies with regards to rural women and land. It defines the rights of a spouse to land acquired under the resettlement program.

Persons who are in a monogamous marriage known as the ‘Marriage Act (Chapter 5:11)’ have joint and equal ownership over small holder farms.

They are able to be joint permit holders over this land. Persons who are in a potentially polygamous union or any type of customary law union too are catered for within this instrument. Wives in these customary law marriages may also have joint ownership over this land in equal proportions to their husband and sister wives. Essentially, a customary law husband can add a new wife to this permit with the permission of the first wife.

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