By Kizito Makoye Shigela
VILABWA, Tanzania (IDN) - At a small village south of Tanzania’s largest city, Dar es Salaam, women rarely talk about land issues because customary norms keep them at bay. “We don’t have the voice, its men who decide everything,” said Saada Hassan a resident of Vilabwa.
The 55-year-old farmer is among many women in the village who have long been campaigning against male dominance in land affairs. “They simply don’t believe a woman can be a good leader or make informed decisions,” she said.
But after years of struggle, Hasan who has lived in the village all her life has now seen a glimmer of hope as women are being assisted to climb up the leadership ladder. “We are capable of doing things that men are not capable of but I wonder they don’t want to give us a change,” she said.
In an effort to bridge the gender divide, Tanzania Women Lawyers Association (TAWLA) – a nonprofit organization comprising female lawyers – has developed a regulatory model which tries to improve women’s contribution in land management decision-making process.
The model by-law, which is being tried in Kidugulo and Vilabwa villages of the eastern Kisarawe district was developed through a participatory approach to help women actively participate in key decision making over land issues, TAWLA officials said.
The two villages had been selected, based on the presence of the on-going agri-business investments, which found problems in women’s participation in land transfer process. Although women play an active role in Tanzania’s agricultural sector, analysts say their contribution is often ignored due to lack of tenure security.
While Tanzania is committed to promote agricultural investments with the view to lift its people from poverty, studies show the influx of foreign investors has weakened local people’s capacity to protect their land.
Nasieku Kisambu, TAWLA’s director of programmes said the model by-laws are expected to bolster the number of women taking part in key decision making organs including the village assembly and the village land council.
“Most of our laws do not reflect equality between men and women which makes it hard for women to actively participate in crucial decisions about village land,” she said. "The village assembly is the highest decision-making body with supreme authority and is also responsible for the election of the village council, she added.
According to Kisambu, the village council, which is responsible for enacting by-laws, comprises 25 members including 8 women who are elected by the village assembly. “In many instances, very few women are elected to the village councils due to some cultural barriers,” she said.
Although the laws allow at least quarter of women to feature in village council meetings, women are often excluded in areas seen as preserve of men. “The model by-law will henceforth call for specific quorums for village assembly meetings which include equal number of men and women,” Kisambu told IDN.
While the right to participate in community matters is granted by the law, most women in Vilabwa rarely show up in village assembly forums to deliberate on critical land issues. “Women are expected to cook for their husbands, go to the farm take care of the family,” said Vilabwa resident Hassan.
A study titled 'Mainstreaming gender in tanzania's local land governance', conducted by TAWLA in conjunction with the World Resources Institute in 2015 found that, illiteracy among women, burden of domestic chores and customary practices restrict women from actively participating in important land decisions.
Based on these findings, TAWLA has joined forces with local villagers to draft the by-laws with the view to empower women and safeguard their interests.
“I think is it a good move since land is everything to women and without it they can hardly earn a living,” Salum Ali, a resident and member of Vilabwa Village Assembly told IDN.
According to Kisambu, TAWLA had established a district task force including a lawyer, community development officer, gender focal officer, two paralegals and one chairman from each pilot village to draft the by-laws in Swahili language.
The task force prepared the by-laws and conducted the meeting with village councils in the two pilot villages to present, discuss and disseminate the final product and submit them for consideration and approval by the village assembly.
The by-laws were approved without reservation in 2015 and 2016, officials said.
TAWLA is convinced that the process has generated new knowledge for enhancing women participation in land governance while creating greater demand for gender equity.
The by-laws are due to be replicated to other villages.
“One of the challenges we have seen is that the provisions of the laws that promote women’s rights are not observed,” Kisambu said.
Godfrey Massay, a land investment expert at Arusha-based charity Tanzania Natural Resource Forum (TNRF), said TAWLA’s initiative has the potential to significantly enhance women’s participation in decision making body at village level.
There are disproportionate impacts related to access and acquisition of land that specifically affect women, thus it is important to have women voices and concerns heard before making any decisions related to land, he added
Massay is of the view that the by-law being developed by TAWLA put in place a mechanism on how best women concerns on land related matters can be accommodated while fixing systemic and policy loopholes that have existed for decades.
“This is one of the most welcomed initiative by CSOs in the country targeting on gender equity in decision making bodies” he stressed. [IDN-InDepthNews – 15 September 2016]
Photo: Residents of Vilabwa village attending a meeting, though men are still in the front row. Credit: Kizito Makoye
IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate.