Women’s land rights today equals a better tomorrow for all Tanzanians

Thursday March 13 2014

By Joseph Melau Alais

As the world celebrated International Women’s Day at the weekend, we at the newly formed ‘Mama Ardhi Alliance’ reflected on what achievements have been made for and by women here in Tanzania.

We are pleased to see that a lot of progress has been made over the past decades. For instance, under the Bill of Rights the current draft of the Constitution, has a specific section on women’s rights, including rights to dignity, equal pay and security of employment during pregnancy and childbirth, protection from violence and exploitation, and provisions against discrimination and harmful traditional practices. These gains are an important step forward, but more needs to be done.

For example, there is currently no language in the second Draft Constitution specifically guaranteeing women the same rights as men in relation to land and property rights. The Mama Ardhi Alliance – a new coalition that consists of five organisations: the Tanzania Women Lawyers Association (Tawla), Women Legal Aid Centre (WLAC), Envirocare, Pastoral Women Council (PWC) and Ujamaa Community Resource Team (UCRT) – formed to ensure that more is done towards women’s equitable access and ownership of customary land and property in the country. An indispensable first step in this process is making sure these rights are enshrined in the Constitution.

One harmful traditional practice we are concerned about is disinheritance. We are urging the Constituent Assembly delegates to remember women – who are their mothers and daughters and sisters. They must do so especially as women are vulnerable to losing their rights over land and property when their husbands and family members die.

For instance, a Maasai woman (name withheld for security reasons) in Ngorongoro District was widowed. She has told us, “When my husband died, his brothers came and took all his livestock and the land, forcing me to go back to my birth home with my five children.”

She knew her rights but did not have the resources to bring a case to court. She became dependent on her parents for food and the children could no longer afford to attend school. She became a burden to her family and is still there looking for ways to resolve the matter.

As it stands now, the law of the land is contradictory. Women’s rights to own and inherit property are protected in the Land Law Cap. 114 and Village Land Act Cap. 113, but according to Rule 27 in the Local Customary Law (Declaration) (No 4.) Order, 1963 GN 436 of 1963, women cannot inherit if the deceased left male relatives of his clan. Therefore, the current Constitution of Tanzania defers to customary law on matters of inheritance.

Women have no guarantee that their rights would be protected, as it is up to individual customary leaders to decide. When women are disinherited, most cannot afford to file a case in the High Court. And when they do, there is no assurance the Court would find the matter in her favour because there are conflicting laws, which allow for a dual system.

This is not only bad for Tanzanian women, but for all of Tanzania. As in the case of Ngorongoro woman, when women are disinherited and kicked out of their land, they cannot afford health-care or to feed their children and send them to school. They become an economic burden on the whole community. Cases like this are happening all across Tanzania, fuelling poverty and slowing our country’s development. In fact, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), if women had the same access to productive resources as men, they could increase yields on their farms by 20-30 per cent and pull 100-150 million people out of hunger.

This constitutional review is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Tanzanians to protect women’s rights and fight poverty. The Supreme Law would impact everyone’s life for decades to come.

At this critical moment we urge the Constituent Assembly to add specific language to Article 37, on property rights, guaranteeing women’s equal right to own and inherit; also, in the current language in Article 47 on women’s rights, a specific provision is needed on land and inheritance. Because equal land rights for women today is our best path to a better future for all Tanzanians tomorrow.

The writer is the legal officer of Pastoral Women Council (PWC) and can be contacted for more information. Email: pwctanzania@gmail.com