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LAC report investigates women's land rights

Release date: April 10, 2008

The Legal Assistance Centre (LAC) recently published a study which examined the position of widows in Namibia’s north-central regions and called for an aggressive information campaign to educate land right holders about their rights and to end property grabbing which continues to affect widows in these regions.

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The 40-page report, Protection for Women in Namibia's Communal Land Reform Act: Is it Working? by Wolfgang Werner, is jointly published by the LAC’s Land, Environment and Development Project (LEAD) and the Gender Advocacy and Research Project (GR&AP), It investigates women's land rights in the four north-central regions of the country, namely Omusati, Oshana, Ohangwena and Oshikoto.

Customary land rights of widows in these regions appear to be much more secure now than at the time of Independence, thanks to the revision of some of the customary laws in the area combined with the impact of the Communal Land Reform Act.

However, the report noted that the majority of customary land rights holders appear to be unaware of their rights in terms of the Communal Land Reform Act, and hence cannot claim these rights. According to Werner, “awareness of the roles and functions of Communal Land Boards appears to be equally poor. For as long as land rights holders are unaware of their rights, customary laws, particularly with regard to gender, are likely to take precedence over statutory law. To the extent that this happens, the social structures that relegate women to a subordinate position are likely to remain in place.”

A major problem is that, despite their improved land tenure right, widows remain vulnerable to losing important household and agricultural assets to relatives of their deceased husbands through the practice of “property-grabbing”, which is justified by reference to matrilineal inheritance practices. “This practice leaves many widows without the means necessary to cultivate their land, and sometimes even without adequate shelter," Werner says.

The study made the following key recommendations:

  • government and NGOs should work together on an information campaign to popularise the provisions of the Communal Land Reform Act, combined with community-based discussions of gender equity and the status of women

  • local communities and Traditional Authorities should develop guidelines to prevent property grabbing, by means of a consultative process which will give new rules widespread legitimacy.

  • where relatives of a deceased husband lay claim to household assets to the detriment of widows and their dependants, the claim should be negotiated in the presence of Traditional Leaders or a forum chosen by local communities

  • government should provide more financial and technical support to Traditional Authorities and Communal Land Boards, to facilitate effective administration of the Communal Land Reform Act

  • officials in the Ministry of Lands and Resettlement should be trained on gender issues.

  • the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry should review the extension and support services aimed at small-scale communal farmers, to ensure that women have full access to services such as seeds, fertilizers, credit and market access.

The study noted that it is the redistribution of land or land rights will not be sufficient on its own to achieve gender equality, but that there must also be a redistribution of socio-economic roles and responsibilities between men and women.

For more information contact The Legal Assistance Centre at 264-(0)61-223-356.

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