or many Malawians, land is an indispensable source of food and income–their only inheritance.
The United Nations’ Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) reports: “If women had the same access to productive resources as men, they could increase yields on their farms by 20–30 percent.”
In 2010, UN Women, UN Development Programme, UN Environment and the World Bank jointly quantified the cost of the gender gap and the potential gains from closing that gap in Malawi, Tanzania and Uganda.
They estimated that the gender gap amounts to $100 million in Malawi per year.
According to the study, closing the gender gap has the potential of lifting 238 000 Malawians out of poverty.
Research findings among women granted land rights in Cameroon and Ghana indicated a positive relationship between granting women land rights and increasing agricultural productivity.
Granting women land rights is, therefore, a major requirement in increasing agricultural productivity, fighting hunger and consequently realizing the right to food.
However, women still face numerous obstacles to access and control land.
Despite huge gains realised from granting women land rights, most women do not have secure land rights due to inadequate legal standards and ineffective implementation of land laws at national and local levels as well as discriminatory cultural norms which regard men as the rightful owners of land.
In recent times, many countries and development agencies have stepped up efforts aimed at granting women land rights.
The African Union’s Declaration on Land Issues and Challenges in Africa requires African States to “strengthen security of land tenure for women [who] require special attention”.
Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, hunger and gender inequalities hinge on recognition of women land rights.
In Tanzania, the 1999 Land Act gives every woman the right to acquire, hold, use and deal with land just as men do.
Similarly, Malawi has the legal foundation for women’s land rights. For instance, the country’s Constitution and the Gender Equality Act call for gender equality and prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex.
Additionally, the 2016 Customary Land Act opened new channels for women to participate in community land management through their representation in land committees and land tribunals.
The law, coupled with the Wills and Inheritance Act of 2011, aims at promoting women’s economic empowerment and work towards full recognition and realisation of women’s economic rights as required by the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (Cedaw).
In many African States, including Malawi, the establishment of laws that protect women’s land rights is rooted in the assumption that once there are laws for the protection of women’s land rights, women will enjoy and realise their land rights.
On the other hand, there is a general trend of condemning some cultural norms responsible for thwarting women’s land rights.
The requirement to comply with both statutory rules and African traditions and culture creates situations of dilemmas.
Despite having a legal framework that protects women’s land rights, the dilemmas within the legal system and in the African traditions negatively affect women’s land rights.
The dilemma makes the realisation of women’s land rights a far-fetched dream in many African nations.
For example, despite the legal reforms in Tanzania, women are still struggling to realise their full land rights.
The same fate has not spared Malawian women. Even though the Customary Land Act was revised in 2016, cultural norms still dominate the land transactions of most Malawians.
This is despite the fact that the law of the land is clear that where cultural norms contradict the statutory law, the law should prevail. n