Today, women’s land rights remain one of the most important sites of social, political and economic contestation in postcolonial Africa. Picture: African News Agency (ANA) Archives
This month affords South Africa an opportunity to commemorate and celebrate its women.

The month reminds us of the struggles of South African women dating back to the audacious deeds witnessed at the Union Buildings on August 9, 1956, when women stood unshaken and hell-bent to resist the pass laws of the apartheid regime.

Today, women’s land rights remain one of the most important sites of social, political and economic contestation in post-colonial Africa.

Land is not only a source of food, employment and income; it gives social prestige and access to political power.

The president has announced that the constitution will be amended to allow expropriation of land without compensation. Women should be at the forefront to makes sure this announcement contributes towards their economic emancipation. It’s high time that women play their vital role in shaping the economy of our country.

The land audit released this year indicated that women own the least land compared to their male counterparts, hence the call from some quarters for radical transformation.

Land has long been recognised as key to advancing the socio-economic rights and well-being of women and their position in society.

Yet access, control and ownership of land largely remain the domain of male privilege, entrenching patriarchal structures of power and control over community resources, history, culture and tradition.

For most women, especially in Africa, access to land is still linked to their relationship with a male family member and is forfeited if the relationship ends. Even where land reform policies include gender equality goals, these tend to fade when it comes to implementation.

The lack of serious attention to gender equality reinforces the marginalised position of women and undermines mainstreaming efforts to improve women’s rights.

It also hampers, broadly speaking, strategies for economic development.

While civil society advocacy and government programmes to reform disparities in land tenure regimes have removed some of the historical legal barriers, land remains an unachievable aspiration for most rural and urban poor women in the continent.

Women’s prospects for socio-economic upliftment through secure tenure appear particularly grim, even more so as the global demand for land for large-scale agriculture and mining increases land scarcity, fuelling a rise in land prices and fierce competition for control.

Further, the de facto existence of a dual system of statutory law and indigenous customary law in many countries allows men to manoeuvre from one to the other as it favours them.

The complexity of legal systems narrows women’s access to justice as they often lack basic knowledge about legal procedures and their rights.

Legislative and institutional reforms also need to engage with custom in order to deconstruct and rconceptualise traditional notions of land access, control and ownership, with a view to intervene at points that will make the most difference for women.

Tshepo Diale

Nkwe Estate, Pretoria