Zenia Reuben is a farmer from Mwanza, Malawi who grows maize, pumpkins, sorghum, pigeon peas and beans. In Mwanza, land is owned by women - men do not own land as they leave their own villages to join their wives.
When my cousin married he brought his wife here and asked me for a piece of land, which I gave him - men can bring their wives into their home village in a custom called “Chitengwa” and grab land from their sisters who have less power to fight for their rights.
He was not satisfied and started encroaching onto the land, which belonged to my mother and which I had already allocated to my daughter and husband to farm – I could not question this because he is a man and traditionally, we do not question our brothers and male cousins.
We fought over these two acres of land for a year and despite pleading with him, he continued to encroach, squeezing my daughter and I into a smaller area.
I reported him to the chief but nothing materialised, which forced me to flight over the land, which my mother gave me when I was still a girl.
Last year, I joined the REFLECT Circle in our area because I wanted to learn how to read and write. However, I discovered that I was also able to learn about my rights.
I shared my problems with the facilitators and my friends - I could not understand why my cousin was trying to grab my land when there was land that his mother had left for his sisters. I just didn’t know what to do.
At the circle, we discussed at length our rights as women to traditionally own land and have control over the produce – my cousin was invited to the circle and the facilitators educated him about this.
During the meeting the chief was also there, who also understood my rights and he ensured that the land was returned to me.
Since then, we no longer fight however I wish I had a letter which stated that this is my land, just in case I die, as I do not want my daughter and her children to suffer.
My cousin can easily change his mind and grab the land from my daughter.
This is the good thing about being in the circle, as we learn a lot and help each other – I have got my land back.
I have also learnt that I have rights and how important dilogue is whenever there is a problem – tolerating each other and living in peace.
I am so thankful to WOLAR (an ActionAid/Niza funded project) and especially the circles, which are helping us women a lot.
Through continuing to sell the pigeon peas I grow, I never go hungry – from the proceeds, I am also able to afford casual labour during the growing season.