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Kenyan Woman



MARCH 8, 2014

Figures According to statistics by Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA) Kenya only five per cent of the land in Kenya is owned by women. According to Odenda Lumumba, coordinator Kenya Land Alliance National “since women’s interests are largely not recorded on title deeds, the land on which they have customary user rights and on which they may depend for livelihoods can be disposed off without their knowledge or consent”. Lumumba notes that married women are unable to exercise any control over the transfer, sale, or subdivision of matrimonial property. The large majority of women in Kenya leave their father’s land to go reside with their husband on property that he may have previously purchased or inherited. Lumumba urges Kenyans to work hard to ensure that women own land like their male counterparts.

A farmer tends to her crops at Wambugu farm. Tradition has in the past been used to deny women their rights to inherit land from their families. PHOTO: FILE

New land laws, a reprieve for women to inherit land By Henry Kahara


omen have over the years borne the brunt of injustices in Kenya with land as a resource emerging as a tool for discrimination.

Due to cultural practices, many women have been denied their rights to own land. Tradition has been used deny women their rights to inherit land from their husbands or fathers. However, culture has evolved and the modern woman is now fighting for her share. Liz Wangari, 50, a single parent and an administrator represents thousands of women who have been denied their right to inheriting land. For the last ten years, Wangari has been visiting Kituo cha Sheria, a non-governmental organisation that provides pro-bono services to individuals who cannot afford legal fees, to seek for help on how she can inherit a piece of land her father owned.

many cases the organisation is pursuing.

Right Burugu says that unlike Wangari who knows her right, many women especially those in the grassroots do not know their land rights. Many women, especially those in the rural areas are still chained to retrogressive cultures that have rendered them poor and with no property to their name, including land. “Most women in the grassroots do not know their rights and they are suffering silently in the villages. We need to empower them,” says Burugu. She emphasises that the number of women owning land in Kenya will only rise if they are empowered. Currently, only five percent of land in Kenya is registered jointly with women and only one percent is registered by women alone. “Women need to know what the law says about land inheritance,” says Burugu.

Her brother believes that as a woman, she cannot inherit their father’s property since culturally she is supposed to be married.

Burugu notes that empowering women on land matters can be made easier by inclusion of other key groups in the grassroots while carrying out the civic education.


“We also need to think of empowering council of elders in various communities’ country wide,” she adds.

The brother has been scheming to disinherit her. He has gone ahead to evict her from the land, forcing Wangari to rent a house. However, her search for justice remains elusive. The case started ten years ago and is yet to be decided. According Carol Burugu, a lawyer with Kituo cha Sheria, Wangari’s case is a representation of

Council of elders are vital decision making organs at grassroots level in all communities in Kenya. The Constitution of Kenya recognises them in solving land disputes and states in Article 60 (g) “. . . encouragement of communities to settle land disputes through recognised local community initiatives consistent with the Constitution”.


Burugu urges civil society organisations to try and target council of elders while carrying out projects in the grassroots since this is a good avenue to drive information home. “These are vital groups and we need to target them since they work faster than our courts and if well empowered justice will not be delayed,” she notes. According to Professor Abreena Manji, gender policy and rights must become a norm if Kenya is to progress.

Policy Manji who is also the Director of British Institute of Eastern Africa admits that Kenya has very good laws and policies but they have not been put in to practice. “We need internal words to match with the action,” says Manji. “Women issues on land are far from being settled,” says Patricia Mbote, professor of Law and Dean School of Law at the University of Nairobi. Mbote urges institutions which have been mandated with land issues to involve women more when implementing policies. She affirms that most women work on land and they are responsible for productivity of land but unfortunately a majority of them do not have a say on the proceeds of the land because they do not own it. “At the end of the day it is the male counterparts who hold the title deed and they can sell or mortgage the property therein and there is nothing the women can do,” explains Mbote.

The inability to establish an interest in this land that has subsequently become matrimonial property leaves women landless and dependent on their husbands for stability.

Report A report by United Nations Women, “Realizing Women’s Right to Land and Other Productive Resources” highlights the urgent need to direct women’s rights on land towards human based perspective with stress on gender equality. The report argues that women’s right to land are directly linked to global food security and sustainable development. Currently, the country is undergoing reforms on land laws, and the National Land Policy calls for protection of women in matters related to land. The policy notes gross disparities in land ownership, gender and transgenerational discrimination in succession, transfer of land and the exclusion of women in land decision making processes. It states that land productivity has been affected by disinheritance of women and vulnerable members of society and biased decisions by land management and dispute resolution institutions. Noting that culture and tradition continue to support male inheritance of family land while there is a lack of gender sensitive family laws, the National Land Policy calls for enactment of appropriate legislation to ensure effective protection of women’s rights to land and related resources.

Constitution Since promulgation of the constitution in 2010, three new laws related to land have been passed. These include the Land Act 2012; National Land Commission 2012; and Land Registration Act 2012. The Land Act 2012 is an Act of Parliament to give effect to Article 68 of the Constitution, to revise, consolidate and rationalize land laws; to provide for the sustainable administration and management of land and land based resources, and for connected purposes. Article 68 of the Constitution among other things calls on Parliament to enact legislation (iii) to regulate the recognition and protection of matrimonial property and in particular the matrimonial home during and on termination of marriage; Article 68 (vi) calls on parliament to enact legislation “to protect the dependants of deceased persons holding interests in any land, including interests of spouses in actual occupation of land.” It is hoped that through these land laws, women, who include spouses and daughters will be protected to owning and inheriting land without discrimination on their gender.

MARCH 8, 2014

Kenyan Woman


How culture has defined women’s relationship with land By Carolyne Oyugi


n Africa, women contribute about 80 per cent of farm labour as well as make decisions that involve when, how and what to plant. However, the cast changes and favours men when it comes to financial gains.

According to Lumumba Odenda, National Coordinator Kenya Land Alliance women are not enjoying the benefits of their labour. “In most Kenyan and even African rural areas women are sidelined when it comes to important decisions like selling and buying land,” Odenda says. While addressing the monthly Gender Forum organized by Heinrich Boll Sifting, Lumumba blamed different cultures that perceived land as masculine. However, he noted that there is no clear record of how much land is owned by women. “We do not have data in Africa on what women own or do not own. Different organizations and institutions have come up with some figures but it would be better if we had figures depicting the situation on the ground.”

Principles According to Odenda, it is the duty of the National Land Commission to emphasize on land principles and talk of equitability and access to the precious resource by eliminating all elements of discrimination. Lumumba notes that women are the majority in Kenya and so they should be majority in land ownership which is the biggest form of property. Urban population is increasing globally and women are acquiring real estates, performing better academically and so they want equal ownership to their ancestral land. Echoing the same sentiments, Professor Ambreena Manji, Director British Institute in East Africa agrees that something should be done in order to enable more women own land. “All donors agree that something should be done. Statistics are hard to get but we know that women contribute between 80 to 90 percent of labour on land.” She advised that women be educated more on matters pertaining to land. “At times women are involved in risky situations where they get into transactions that they do not understand and end up losing their properties,” notes Manji.

Constitution According to Professor Patricia Kameri-Mbote, Professor of Law and

Agnes Ndetei, the head of the National Drought Management Authority Board. She believes that the only way out of drought and poverty is by empowering the Kenyan woman.

Dean of the school of Law, University of Nairobi, value for law in the realization of land rights is so hyped. “The Constitution and other Kenyan laws have helped to boost women’s chance of inheriting land but we must look outside law,” says KameriMbote. She adds: “We should not only look at land rights at national and local levels but also at domestic levels.”

Ownership Kameri-Mbote reiterates that land rights are within the family. “In 1994 we went out to different parts of the country to find out why women want to inherit land. At that time there were not many cases in court. We were amazed by the extent to which lack of land ownership defined their ways of life.” Kameri-Mbote emphasizes that women do not need to inherit land after their spouses death instead there should be clear division and ownership of land right from their fathers so that single mothers and women who do not intend to get married have a place to construct a shelter and do some farming. According to Belize Odemna, Programme Officer Litigation and Legal Services KELIN Kenya, women should use locally available avenues to solve land issues. This, she says, reduces hostility from family members. “KELIN has worked with Luo Council of Elders to solve women’s land issues. Where a woman’s husband has died of Aids, there is a lot of hostility from the in-laws who claim she killed their son.” Odemna emphasizes that it is important to solve land issues in a way that there is no victimization. She also adds that it takes a shorter time to solve the cases out of court than in court. “It takes two to five months to solve a case locally while in court it can take between seven to 15 years.” According to David Ngira, women are afraid to own land because of cultural definition. “Some women are told that if they own land they will become barren. This instils fear in them and at times they do not even want to be involved in discussions around land.” However, Kameri-Mbote says we should not demonize culture. “Culture, if well applied, can be enabling but at times it also constrains us. Who is the custodian? In Central Province men easily share their land with their sisters and daughters because to them it is their loss if their daughter is not married. On the other hand, the Luo use wife inheritance as a way of protecting the woman when widowed. We, should, therefore be aware of what we should change.”


Agnes Ndetei Is she Kenya’s solution to food insecurity? By Henry Kahara


he burden of food insecurity continues to weigh heavily on women. Over the years, women have borne the tag of hunger and famine with a significant percentage of them being affected, a factor that has led to them being characterised by poverty, and hence the concept feminization of poverty. However, the Jubilee government, a coalition of parties that won the last General Election, are all out to ensure food security for Kenyans. To make this possible, they have tasked a woman to deliver. Agnes Ndetei is now heading the National Drought Management Authority Board, and she says that the only way out of drought and poverty is by empowering the Kenyan woman. Ndetei notes that women are hardest hit by famine owing to their close ties with the family and traditional African culture that limit their access to instruments that can ensure food security.

Capacity “Women are decision makers when it comes to kitchen matters; what will be eaten in that family so whenever drought strikes they become the first victims,” explains Ndetei. As she gets to settle on this now position, Ndetei is calling on the government and non-governmental organizations as well as development partners to empower women so they can be in a position to deal with such challenges. “Some of the problems we are experiencing as a nation arise from injustices levelled against women in this nation,” Ndetei notes citing famine as one of them. She proposes: “If for instance more women can own a land in Kenya, we can be assured of food security because

they will put their energies to production to feed their children.” Many women in Kenya do not have the right to own land due to discrimination perpetuated by outdated cultural practices. Statistics by Federation of Women Lawyers in Kenya show that only five per cent of women own land in Kenya. “The problem is that men who are much favoured by culture when it comes to land inheritance prefer to use the land to grow cash crops which are long term in terms of income,” explains Ndetei. “Empowering women with much focus at the grassroots level where most of them live can play a big role in eradicating hunger in the country,” says Ndetei.

Irony She observes that most women, especially those in the rural areas do not have power to decide what will be planted on the land. “It is the men who have the power to decide what is to be planted on the land,” she notes. According to Ndetei it is ironical that women do not have a voice when it comes to how the land will be utilised but they are the one to work on it, providing labour that is not even accounted for in terms of wages. It is noted that women provide 80 per cent of the labour in agriculture. “Much work like tilling the land, planting and even harvesting is done by women and children but the income goes to the man’s pocket. This is an example of injustice I am talking about,” she explains, adding “this has in turn reduced women to beasts of burden”.

Investment “I urge women who are fortunate to own land to look at it as a business venture and make profit out of it,” Ndetei advises says adding that approximately 90 per cent of women live in country side.

According to a research by Agency for Cooperation and Research in Development (ACORD), if women can have equal access to land and resources they can increase crop yields by between 25 to 30 per cent and reduce levels of hunger by between 12 to 17 per cent. “I think this is the time for women to take responsibility and be involved in decision making even at the family level,” Ndetei proposes. She urges women to ensure that the right crop is planted in their farms. “For famine to be a forgone story, Kenyans need to change their mind-sets in regard to the type of crops they farm,” advises Ndetei. Farmers in arid and Semi-Arid (ASALs) areas need to identify crops which do well in their areas.

Awareness The government and non-governmental organisations have been educating people on the need of planting crops which are suitable to their climate. However, despite this many farmers have continued maintaining that maize, which is the country’s staple food is what they will plant even when climatic conditions do not allow. This has made many Kenyans to suffer poor harvest, hence creating a room for famine and food insecurity. “Kenyans mentality on food needs to change because people think that they only have to plant maize in order to feel that they have food,” reiterates Ndetei. “Those living in arid and semi- arid lands should farm crops which can withstand long dry seasons, furthermore this food can be preserved and stay for long without getting spoilt,” says Ndetei giving examples of mawele (millet), yams and cassava among others. “Unless we go back to the drawing box this problem of drought will keep on recurring and we will never come out of it,” she concludes.


Special issue of the Kenyan Woman newspaper for International Women's Day 2014


Special issue of the Kenyan Woman newspaper for International Women's Day 2014