Press releases

Zambia: Women and land – policy vs reality

16 November 2010 - The Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE), a Geneva-based international housing rights watchdog, today released a “report card” examining the impact of Zambia’s land reform processes on women.

The report, The Impact of National Land Policy and Land Reform on Women in Zambia, was released together with the Women's Land Link Africa (WLLA), a joint initiative of organisations dedicated to improving women's land and housing rights in Africa.

The findings in the report are based, among other things, on a survey of women in the districts of
Lusaka; Kitwe, in the Copperbelt; and Nyimba, in the Eastern province.

The key finding in the report is that Zambian women’s enjoyment of land rights in both rural and urban areas is hampered by male-dominated structures and patriarchal decision-making mechanisms.

“The reality is that the current Zambian land policy, laws and administrative systems have yet to demonstrate their usefulness to the average Zambian woman,” said Esther Kodhek, COHRE’s Africa Programme Director.

Zambia’s national land policy recognizes the need to increase women’s access to land and states that “while current laws do not discriminate against women, women still lack security of tenure to land in comparison with their male counterparts.”

While women produce most of Zambia’s food, they are also the majority of Zambia’s poor.

Despite the fact that the livelihoods of most families depend on women’s cultivation of land, insecure land tenure and limited access to land continue to characterize the legal relationship between women and land in Zambia.

The lack of women’s rights to land has been perpetuated by social and traditional customs.  It is usually men who are seen as the owners of the land, while women are regarded merely as users.

“Women, particularly those in remote rural areas, have been consistently left out of legal and policy formulation regarding land issues, and have faced marginalization when it comes to the implementation of those laws and policies,” said Sylvia Noagbesenu, COHRE’s WLLA Project Manager.

Zambia’s Land Policy stipulates that a minimum of 30 percent of available land in Zambia should be set aside for women and other disadvantaged groups. However, there are no clear guidelines on how to allocate that 30 percent of the land. Furthermore, the 30 percent allocation has been criticized as not being sufficient to meet the demands for land of women and other disadvantaged groups.

“On the surface, the Land Act does not discriminate against women,” said Sylvia Noagbesenu, COHRE’s WLLA Project Manager.

“Women can apply for any land in any part of Zambia, just like their male counterparts. But the law ignores the long historical reality of an unequal society in which women have not had access, ownership or control over land. It assumes that there is gender equality in land and that traditional systems do not discriminate against women.  Therefore, the law does not provide a gender-sensitive framework under which these imbalances can be checked and corrected.”

In Zambia, inheritance plays a big role in land administration and the distribution of wealth.

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In areas under customary tenure, a wife rarely inherits land or other property from her husband, and her rights to joint marital property are not recognized. In most cases, the right to inherit land and other property is the prerogative of the next of kin, who is usually defined as having to be a male.

According to WLLA, changing the situation will require more than just policies and laws – it will require education and sensitization for women, men and traditional leaders who enforce practices that discriminate against women.

The report contains several recommendations to the Zambian government on how to address the issue of women and land, including:

  • an extensive and comprehensive review by the government of the current Land Policy and the Lands Act of 1995 in order to ensure that they are amended to incorporate a gender-sensitive perspective and approach - the review process should include the meaningful participation of women from all across Zambia, so that the practical concerns of women are addressed;
  • a sustained public education programme on women’s land rights in Zambia;
  • the establishment of a  monitoring mechanism to ensure the proper distribution of land.

To see a full copy of The Impact of National Land Policy and Land Reform on Women in Zambia, please click here.

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November 03 2010