Header photo: Portrait of a woman in Sierra Leone © Joshua Hanson for Unsplash

Over 60% of women in the Rukwa-Katavi region in Tanzania depend on agriculture. It is legally established that women, just like men, have a right to land. However, practice has shown otherwise: customs and traditions cause many women to be unable to obtain property rights. IUCN NL supports local partner organizations that bring villagers together to change this. These village meetings have already resulted in multiple success stories. One of them is about a woman who attended a village meeting and helped a widow retain her land.

In Tanzania, many people view ‘the man’ as the head of the family and, as a result, the only one who is entitled to owning land. ‘Our partner organizations have organized a series of village meetings to start a conversation about customs and traditions that hinder women in accessing natural resources,’ says Frederique Holle, Expert Environmental Justice at IUCN NL. ‘This process requires a lot of patience: improving the position of women and changing mindsets can take years.’

Sharing knowledge

‘It is a slow process, but thanks to the village meetings, during which the theme is brought up time after time, clear changes can be identified,’ says Frederique. For instance, the 35-year-old Catherina Mwasiga recently pointed out to Maklida Mbalazi that she had the right to own land. Catherine tells us: ‘Shortly after attending the village meeting I heard a woman, who was sitting in the same restaurant as me, saying that her husband had recently passed away. She was afraid that she would lose her land to her in-laws.’ Catherine shared the knowledge she had obtained with Maklida: ‘I pointed out to her that she had worked the land for over 20 years, which entitled her to owning it. She was not aware of that.’

Empowered to demand land ownership

This, of course, peaked Maklida’s interest, and Catherine made sure she got in touch with the team of local partner organizations Rukwa Environmental Management Society (REMSO) and Action Aid Tanzania. Catherine says: ‘They could answer her questions and gave her the additional information she needed to demand ownership of the land. Now that she is aware of her rights, she feels empowered to stand up for them.’

Maklida felt supported after receiving this information, giving her the confidence to stand up during a village meeting and share her story. Her in-laws were also present at this meeting and, because the case was shared publicly, decided to reach a settlement with her that allowed her to retain her land.

Frederique Holle
Expert Environmental Justice