In many parts of Uganda, particularly in the north, farming as a business to earn a sustainable income is dependent on owning and having full access to land. Nonetheless, discrimination against women’s small scale farmers’ rights to property and tenure remains the norm in many places, and existing legal regimes frequently provide little recourse for women to realize these rights. With few avenues to land ownership, many women small-scale farmers are effectively excluded from key decision-making processes, effectively turning their clocks anti-clockwise in pursuing opportunities in agribusiness value chains.
Over time, ESAFF Uganda has consistently worked to promote rural women’s land rights in a variety of ways, including assisting them in obtaining land rights information through annual land awareness weeks, strengthening their capacity to meaningfully participate in large-scale land-based investments through the Community Engagement Tool (CET) and strengthening their struggles for gender justice through the GALS methodology. GALS methodology works at the household and community levels to change gender norms regarding women’s use and control of land and property. We’ve seen the benefits of empowering women small scale farmers to control their land rights, from sustainable natural resource management to the expansion of agribusiness activities, improved health and nutrition, and increased women’s participation in local governance.
ESAFF Uganda, since 2014/15, assisted households in the West Nile districts of Adjumani, Nebbi, and Zombo to guarantee land rights using the GALS methodology. Women are working closely with their husbands to register customary land titles in both the wife’s, children’s, and husband’s names, with equal ownership shares and the woman’s name listed first, to appreciate gender justice. This ensures that the land will be entirely hers and her children’s if she is widowed, divorced, or abandoned, as indicated in the video.
The barriers to full land rights
The challenges that women small-scale farmers face in West Nile and throughout the country are linked to long-standing traditions and cultural norms that are gender-discriminatory and blind. For instance, outdated cultural beliefs do not reflect women’s full land rights. This can take various forms, including outright denial of girls’ and women’s succession or receipt of an inheritance, given that land is typically passed down through male family members.
“Death took not only my husband but also my livelihood.” Because we live in a patriarchal society, my in-law came and claimed the land that my husband had left me. I grew crops on it for a while before being evicted. This was done with complete disregard for me and the child I had borne with their brother before his death. According to my in-laws, the land is for my deceased husband’s brothers and male cousins. And I’m stressed out because I don’t have any land to grow food on. Surviving has become difficult.” Sofia Adhoc is a widow and small-scale farmer from the Zombo district.
While recognizing and realizing women’s land rights has frequently faced challenges, there have recently been some encouraging signs of progress. For example, the 2018 UNDROP declaration urges states to provide legal protection for land rights, including customary land rights. ESAFF Uganda worked tooth and nail with international peasants’ movements for the endorsement of the declaration. The UNDROP advocates for abolishing all forms of discrimination against women working in rural areas in any capacity, including women small-scale farmers.
The importance of tenure security
Women small-scale farmers face challenges not only in terms of limited land rights but also in terms of land tenure or the ability to control and manage land. This means that even if some people have access to land, they cannot use it or make long-term decisions about it. Security of tenure is critical for small-scale farmers. Such stability provides peace of mind that they will be able to use the land without interference, but it also brings a slew of other advantages, such as the ability to invest in their land and farming as a business and reap the benefits of those investments. Higher earnings and thus more prosperous households result from proper legal documentation, including land titles, legal rights, and available safety nets. We have recently seen progress in rural women’s tenure security through information sharing and sensitization. For example, women have increased their control of land-based productive activities resulting in higher incomes.
“When my father died several years ago, all six of us inherited the family land, although the boys inherited larger portions than the girls, as is customary in Alur. We believed that owning land was a privilege, not a right for women and that land rights were dependent on my father, spouse, brothers, or sons. Organizations such as ESAFF provided information and education concerning land rights and registration. After that, I headed to ALC to register my portion. “I now understand my right to access, own, utilize, and transfer land, and this opportunity is a blessing for me.” Because I am a certified landowner, this offers me a reason to focus more on agribusiness pursuits.” Atuc-Iri Magret, A small-scale farmer from Zombo District.
Towards achieving the SDGs via realizing women’s land rights
Securing land rights for women small-scale farmers does more than make them more prosperous. It is also related to the overall well-being of their families, particularly their children. According to ESAFF Uganda’s peoples’ campaign on land rights in West Nile, women small scale farmers invest more of their earnings than men in the well-being of their families, particularly in areas such as nutrition, health, and education. Therefore, investing in women’s equal access to land and assets is a direct investment in our future and a critical step toward achieving gender equality (SDG 5) and ending hunger (SDG 2). The first goal is critical to accelerating progress across the entire 2030 Agenda. We will continue to work at ESAFF Uganda towards these objectives in collaboration with our local, regional, and global partners.