The women of Africa have categorically stated that talk is cheap. The time for real action is now. They have scaled the highest mountain on the continent just to tell their leaders that their patience has been used up. They are not willing to continue with the rhetoric that has continued for decades with regards to their land rights.
Our continent is not short of policies and frameworks that proffer security of tenure to land and natural resources for women. The African Union (AU) Declaration on Land is one example that gives force to the AU Framework and Guideline for land Policies in Africa (F&G), and was adopted by African heads of states in 2009. It theoretically commits governments to ensure equitable access to land for all land users and strengthen women’s land rights. When implemented, the guidelines require governments to review their land sector and develop comprehensive land policies; ensure policy provisions have a path to increase access to land and strengthen rights of women; ensure women are in leadership positions in land institutions; decentralise to increase access to institutions that govern land; and make use of the F&G to guide their national land policy process. The F&G provides direction on how to address challenges facing women to access land.
Many countries have adhered to this commitment and developed land policies in conformity with the AU F&G. From Mozambique to Ethiopia, Sierra Leone to Kenya and many countries in between have new land policies. It is therefore not for lack of policies that women in Africa are still not enjoying their land rights.
And it is with all these in mind that 29 rural women from 13 countries in Africa, representing thousands of rural women, scaled the highest mountain to demonstrate their resolve for change and to show that they are willing to do the impossible for their voices and demands to be heard. With the same resolve, over 400 of their fellow women converged in Arusha to agree upon a charter of demands for their leaders to act upon with urgency. The women need leaders to take decisive actions to tackle issues impeding their exercising of land rights: the implementation of laws, policies, frameworks, social cultural barriers, land investments, and threats to women human rights defenders.
The political leaders and government officials present in Arusha pronounced good will speeches to support the rural women’s demands. The Chairperson of the African Union Commission commited the AU to enforcing these demands. Yet, so many commitments have been made in the past. Continued advocacy is paramount if these demands are to be eventually met. And indeed, the women in their country and regional formations have plans for such continued advocacy.
The heroic efforts of the 29 women climbers were recognised and celebrated with song and dance by their fellow women who went to receive their heroes as they descended Mt. Kilimanjaro. Similarly, there was jubilation in various countries as the rural women’s caravans made their return journeys back home. From Mozambique, Uganda, Tanzania, Liberia, Kenya, Nigeria and many other countries, celebratory receptions for the women made headlines in the news.
The presence of officials from the Land Policy Initiative (LPI) of the African Union, Africa Development Bank and UNECA in Arusha was a good indicator of the interest and the weight AUC puts to the women’s land rights agenda in Africa. The LPI provides a good vehicle to take this agenda to the rest of the continent, being mandated to implement the AU’s commitments on land and particularly the 2015 AU resolution that 30% registered land rights must be in the names of women by 2030.
And truly the women know what they want - all they need is support and real action from their leaders...