Kenya launched the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) on 14th September 2016 with an appeal to all government agencies and development partners to work towards the realization of the goals. Goal 1 on ‘ending poverty and hunger’ remains outstanding for its centrality to the ActionAid Kenya mandate. Target 1.4 reiterates the need to ensure that by 2030, all men and women, in particular the poor and the vulnerable, have equal rights to economic resources, access to basic services, ownership and control over land and other forms of property, as well as inheritance and natural resources. As efforts towards the realization of the goals gain traction, women’s access to, use of and control over land and other productive resources remains elusive .
As we build synergy of resources and ideas to transform the women’s land rights landscape, we must appreciate the important contribution of women to agricultural and rural economies. They continue to be the driving force behind subsistence farming and general food security in Kenya. Denial of land ownership to women is a denial of the wellbeing of the family and the economy as well.
The statistics on women land ownership show a static change. It is estimated that only 1% of land title deeds are held by women alone while only 5-6% of land title deeds in Kenya are held by women jointly with men. This is despite the progressive and positive reforms in the legal framework governing land in Kenya.
These grim statistics should worry any progressive thinking development worker. What must therefore jostle us into greater action are the stories of women like Adera who have been pushed to a status of vulnerability, deprivation and overall violation of human rights by large scale investors such as Dominion Farms Ltd who built a weir across Yala wetlands, resulting in manmade flooding of the adjacent pieces of land where Adera and other small scale farmers live. The constant flooding has consequently resulted in the diminishing of land available for farming and access to clean water. As the ‘manmade’ floods continue to wipe off their livelihoods, the community at Yala wetlands is forced to look for other menial jobs to fend for their families and pay for their children’s school fees.
Despite the discouraging statistics of women land ownership and control, there is hope for the girl-child as the trend of denying women the security of land rights is slowly changing. Men are starting to transfer their land rights to the girl child in defiance of patriarchal land inheritance customary laws held for centuries. Women who have been victims of land rights denial are rising up to the fight by laying claim squarely at the door of duty bearers with impressive results.
As both young and old arise to demand what is rightfully theirs, Joyce through her sentiments reminds us of what an empowering process can achieve. She says in her inspirational story, “my motivation to fight for my family’s land rights was aroused when I attended Sauti ya Wanawake forum. On sharing my sorrows, I was advised on the steps to take, enabling me to reclaim our family land and process title deeds for each of my siblings which I then deposited in a bank for safety.”
Women are standing up to be counted as a constituency of rights holders. They are joining a bigger African movement fighting for women’s right to land, not with bare hands, but with a list of demands that both the national and county governments must lend an ear not only to listen, but to also take every possible effort towards actualizing the recommendations for the land rights of women in Kenya.
I herein stand to be counted in the fight for women’s land rights, will you?
Ruth Angwa Masime
Head of Policy and Campaigns