Land is a synonym of identity, culture, power, development, food and human security. It can as well become a source of conflicts, a perpetrator of social inequalities and discrimination, and a vehicle for depletion of natural resources. Uganda has diverse priorities for achieving national development such as eradication of poverty, food security, agriculture transformation, natural resources exploitation, preventing climate change, and sustainable urban expansion.
Women’s land and property rights remain a challenge across the globe. In Africa it is worsened by the social norms, beliefs and patriarchal attributes of land, legal attachment and recognition of land and property ownership rights. Despite Uganda’s policy and legal regime relating to access, ownership and control land is adequate, all these have not translated into an increment in women ownership, yet over 70% of women are engaged in Agriculture, less than 20% of them have control over their agricultural output and nationally only approximately 17% of the women own land mainly through purchase. The efforts have been marred by limited resource allocation, corruption, mismanagement of cases, land case backlog, cultures which are compounded with unequal power relations among others.
Women have remained discriminated and often denied their land rights both ancestral, before marriage, in marriage and out of marriage. “Some cultures still consider women as property to be inherited by men” These have often made rural women and girls more inferior, vulnerable, and marginalised in both public and private spheres. This is coupled with ignorance of the law by women on their land/property rights and land governance often exhibited during land acquisition/registration and ownership of land. Often men have sold off land without their spousal consent and in other instances women act as witnesses in the sale of their land with very minimal information on the implication of their actions to the future of land tenure security. This equally affects access to Justice and alternative dispute resolution mechanisms. This has resulted into massive evictions, land grabs, violence against women as a weapon of intimidation and denial of livelihood options for majorly rural women in Uganda.
In addition, there are a number of other barriers that hinder full realisation of women’s land rights including; a) insufficient understanding of the legal plurality governing women’s land rights; b) inappropriate mechanisms for the implementation of legislation, c) limited awareness of women’s rights which impedes implementation of women’s statutory rights; d) exclusion or underrepresentation of women in land related institutions; e) inadequate access to justice for women due to inefficient land dispute resolution mechanisms.
For women to gain ground in land ownership, access and control, there must be gender transformation towards equality. The transformation that leads to sustainable engagements of women in the land governance process, the transformation that challenges the norms and traditions that have held women back in secondary positions as regards land ownership and; this transformation must have been observed in ways governments legislate and deliver programmes for women’s land rights.
International and Regional frameworks backing women’s rights to Land.
The Universal Declaration on Human Rights (UDHR) of 1948 set out the principle of non-discrimination (including on the basis of sex) in exercising the rights therein. Article 17 and 25 stipulates the right to own property and access to food and housing respectively. The principle of non-discrimination is also reinforced in Article 2 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) 1966. Article 26 of the treaty enshrines equality before the law and can be applied to defend women’s right to non-discrimination and equality, not only with respect to civil and political rights, but also with economic and social rights. Similarly, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) 1966, Article 3 acknowledges equal rights of men and women considering all aspects – social, cultural and economic rights which includes property and lands rights,
The Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) 1979, became a cornerstone for the promotion and protection of women’s rights including the right to land and goes ahead to addresses the elimination of discrimination against women before, during and after marriage (Article 16) and particularly emphasise equality of both spouses in respect of the ownership, acquisition, management, administration, enjoyment and disposition of property.
More recently, the Agenda 2030 (SDGs) gives prominence to gender equality on land. Target 1.4 is specifically on equal rights to economic resources and basic services including land ownership, while 2.3 is on doubling agricultural productivity through secure and equal access to land and other productive resources, and 5.a is on undertaking reforms to give women equal rights to economic resources, as well as access to ownership and control over land and other forms of property; target 16 is on access to justice, rule of law & accountable institutions.
In addition, although not legally binding, the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure (VGGTs) seek to improve tenure governance for the benefit of all, with an emphasis on vulnerable and marginalised people. Gender equality is one of the 10 implementation principles, and also addresses gender issues in a cross-cutting way. The VGGTs recognise equality between individuals and explicitly highlight women’s and girls’ equal tenure rights as compared to men (VGGT, 3B Principles of Implementation, article 3 and 4). VGGTs also provides clear guidance for governments in terms on what they need to do to harness potential for women’s land tenure security, (VGGT, 3B Principles of Implementation, Article 1) and specifies that States should ensure equal tenure rights for women and men, including the right to inherit and bequeath these rights.
At regional level, the Maputo protocol is a legally binding human rights instrument for Uganda, and has the potential of safeguarding women’s land rights. It grants the rights to access and control of the productive resources to women including land (Articles 7, 15, 16 20 and 21). The Protocol requires State parties to take measures to provide women with access to clean drinking water, sources of domestic fuel, land, and the means of producing nutritious food in the context of women’s right to food security and puts emphasis on inheritance rights.
The AU Agenda 2063 explicitly made a commitment to develop and implement affirmative policies and advocacy to ensure women’s increased access to land and inputs, and ensure that at least 30% of agricultural financing are accessed by women.
The AU Declaration on Land issues and Challenges (2009) resolved to ensure that land laws provide for equitable access to land and related resources among all land users including the youth and other landless and vulnerable groups such as displaced persons; strengthen security of land tenure for women which require special attention. The AU framework and guidelines on land requires governments to strengthen women land rights through enactment of legislation that allows women to enforce documented claims to land within and outside marriage and to put in place measures to remove issues regarding the land rights of women from the confines of private sphere of marriage and family, and into the public domain of human rights.
The National legal framework that protects women’s land rights.
Uganda boasts of a progressive legal and policy framework, with the Constitution of the Republic of Uganda (1995) which embodies far-reaching policy and legal reforms aimed at securing women’s land rights, advance gender equality and women’s empowerment. Article 21 provides that all persons are equal before the law in all spheres of political, economic, social, and cultural life and in every other aspect and shall enjoy equal protection of the law. Article 31 (1) of the Constitution entitles women and men to equal rights during and after marriage including the acquisition of property which may be land during marriage. The Land Act Cap 227 provides for mandatory representation of women on land tenure governance institutions. The Uganda National Land Policy (2013) has among its core principles, “Equity and justice in access to land irrespective of gender, age, disability or any other reason created by history, tradition or custom.”
About the Women’s Land Rights Movement in Uganda.
The WLRM was reinstated and revived during the 2nd National Women’s conference that took place in Uganda in 2016 to continue with the mobilisation and collaboration of about 20 members ranging from civil society organisations, Ministries, Departments, Community based organisations with a common view and understanding of the land rights challenges that affect women. Bearing in mind that women are the major contributors to the social and economic survival and wellbeing of households and communities. Despite the fact that women are the majority producers of the food we feed on (approximately 80% of agricultural producers), patriarchal norms have bestowed power over land to men and women have a subordinate position which prevents them from enjoying their land rights and participating in land reforms, particularly at a decision-making level.
In addition to the above facts, due to social, cultural, religious norms and stereotypes, women remain overburdened with work; have less time and mobility; have less access to and control over productive resources and therefore less access to and control over the benefits of productive activity (household and personal); have less access to education and training and hence fewer economic options; women have less experience, self-confidence and credibility in public-sphere activity and lack political power. All these inhibit their participation in land governance processes and therefore can’t benefit equitably with men.
To be able to deal with the above issues that inhibit the full enjoyment and realisation of women’s land rights, members agreed to set out 10 minimum demands that each of them would contribute to fulfilling in their various organisations for a period of 5 years (2016-2021) which include;
WE DEMAND THAT Government, Civil Society, scholars, the private sector and development actors:
- In full compliance with national, regional and international aspirations of women‘s rights instruments, every land administration decision and action must fully involve women themselves as the rights holders regardless of her birth, age, tribe, social origin/affiliation, religion, marital status, fortune, and political or other opinion;
- Uphold and implement fully the provisions of the CEDAW and the Protocol to the African Demands on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of women in Africa, that enshrine the right to equal access to, ownership and control of land, livelihood and acceptable living conditions; Agenda 2030; the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests as well as the AU Declaration on Land Issues and Challenges in Africa.
- Fully implement Article 26 and 33 of the 1995 Constitution of Uganda which uphold and protect rights to own property and land;
- Ensure good and gender sensitive land governance including clear instruments for documentation of women’s rights to land across all tenure types.
- Improve access to justice for women and provide universal legal aid for women to seek redress for any violations of their land rights.
- Outlaw bad customary and written laws and practices that negatively affect women’s tenure security; Institute formal and cultural deterrent mechanisms against individuals, groups or associations of persons, companies or institutions that evict, dispossess or disinherit women of their land.
- Respect, protect and enforce the right of every woman in Uganda to hold and use land free of fear and violence, for their economic empowerment.
- Regulate businesses and investments so they are accountable for respecting human rights, environmental, social and labour standards; review public policies that fuel land grabs, and replace them with policies that prioritize sustainable land use taking into account the unique needs of women and other small-scale food producers; and ensure the free, prior & informed consent of all communities affected by land-based investments inclusive of extractives.
- Generate status of land governance in Uganda using gender indicators to provide evidence and gendered information on land ownership that will be used to close the gender gap in land holding.
- Target women with incentives for land allocation, utilization as well as facilitate land transactions and funding to promote equal opportunities;
Why the Women’s Land Rights Conference
Women have always experienced enormous challenges when it comes to accessing credit in financial institutions because of lack of collateral like land simply because they do not have land registered in their names. The 2016 National conference aimed at ensuring that by 2025, women attain 30% registered ownership and the members of the WLRM committed to implementing the 10 minimum demands geared towards the fulfilment of the 2025 agenda, therefore, the third Women’s Land Rights Conference of 2021 will be a carry forward conversation to: “TRACKING PROGRESS OF THE RIGHT TO LAND IN UGANDA – ATTAINING 30% REGISTERED OWNERSHIP IN THE NAME OF WOMEN BY 2025. “ The planned virtual conference will be a time for self-assessment, how far we have come in this journey five years down the road, what has been achieved, what more can be done to ensure that the 30% is reached for the realisation of women’s land rights and security of tenure, what recommitments need to be made, which champions do we need on board moving forward.
Further, It will as well help building consensus at country level on requisite national level actions for better protection and advancement of women’s rights to land that will result into an equitable and transformative change in the land sector. This will aid in the creation of a safe space for women of different social, economic and religious beliefs and background to dialogue with state and non-state land actors and find amicable solutions to local and national challenges they face with emphasis to their strategic and practical needs considering that women are not a homogenous group, concerns of intersections of women (including; married women, female household heads, widows, rural & urban women, illiterate, educated, the elderly, women with disabilities among others) must be put at the centre of the land debate.
- To create a platform for discussion and sharing of their lived experiences between the grassroots women and the duty bearers, this will aim at generating new commitments towards the cause of security of tenure for women.
- To evaluate the progress of the 10 minimum demands that organisations committed to fulfilling for the past 5 years towards the achievement of the 30% registered land in women’s name.
- Gunner and generate commitments for the Women’s Land Rights Agenda 2021.
- Documentation of women’s voices and best practices form the 5years implementation.
- Laying strategies on how the WLRM will work for the next 5years.
- A strengthened multi stakeholder Platform on gender equality on land established and functional.
- A revamped and visible Women’s Land Rights Movement inclusive of the ministry focal persons for collaboration to drive the agenda for the next 5 years.
- A recommendation from the WLRM members on women’s land rights agenda.
The conference will be attended by a wide range of actors from local and national level among including the following: –
- Land actors at national level; Parliamentarians, Ministers, the justice sector and the land sector;
- A selection of local government officials Local Government Associations
- Customary/traditional institutions with responsibilities over land;
- Development partners financing land related sectors (such as land, agriculture, environment, natural resources, livestock development, infrastructure development) and women’s rights programs;
- Grassroots women and their organisations;
- Religious leaders from the different faiths
- Non-governmental organizations including farmer organizations at national level.
- The academia;
- The private sector;
- The media.
 Article 26 of the 1995 Constitution of Uganda, the 1998 Land Act and the EAC countries provide for women’s land rights.
In 1985, government of Uganda ratified CEDAW. Upon ratification, in 1995 it domesticated the provisions of CEDAW in its Constitution for the protection of the rights of women.
 Protocol to the African Charter On Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa ratified by Uganda on July 22, 2010 and becomes the 28th country to the protocol.