The Struggle for Her Land Rights

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By Rebecca Apio

Despite the legal framework being very progressive in terms of gender equality, women in Uganda have continuously experienced gender discrimination in access to land and other natural resources.  Women bear the brunt of human rights violations and yet when these violations occur, legal redress is inaccessible for them. The legal framework, notably The 1995 Constitution under Article 33 guarantees women equal rights with men and Article 21 prohibits discrimination based on gender and accords men and women the same status and rights with Article 32 providing for affirmative action in favour of marginalized groups.

The Land Act Cap 227 as amended under Section 34A provides for spousal’s security of occupancy of family land. Section 39 requires the spousal consent in transactions involving family holdings while Section 28 explicitly prohibits decisions affecting customary land that deny women access to ownership, occupation or use of any land as well as decisions that impose conditions violating the constitutional provisions that protects women.

The National Land Policy 2013, under Section 4.10 acknowledges the failure of Uganda formal laws to overcome discriminatory practices concerning women’s land and inheritance. The implementation and enforcement of the legal framework have for a long time remained a challenge while women continue to suffer human rights violations.

In most cases, women’s rights to land are determined by their relationships with male counterparts who are usually their fathers or husbands as compared to the male counterparts whose land rights are by birth. It is thus clear that in the absence of the male counterpart be it by death, separation or divorce, the women stand a high risk of being dispossessed of their land rights. The situation gets worse  in cases where a woman is in cohabitation which is a very common practice in the communities today.

Whereas the Constitution as well as the Succession Act guarantees widows the right to inheritance, implementation of this legal framework remains a far cry especially for the illiterate and rural women who are unable to access justice when their inheritance rights are violated. Even with the law providing for Alternative Dispute Resolution mechanisms (ADR) as a medium of settlement of dispute which should have been an option for women as opposed to the statutory system, the distorted role of the traditional institution have made it difficult for when to realize their rights through ADR. In some instances, the traditional leaders are unaware of the law of women’s rights and some are biased against women’s rights.

The achievement of gender equality especially in respect to land rights therefore calls for a concerted effort by all stakeholders right from community level to the national level. Deliberate action has to be taken to determine what is right in human social relations in as far as land is concerned. There is need to amend the existing gaps in the legal framework,  implement and enforce  the existing legal framework as a way to ensure that women enjoy their land rights.

About the Author: Rebecca Apio works with The Land Justice Network