Activists call for flexible land laws

Women activists have called for policy changes to allow people jointly owning a piece of land that is less than an hectare in size to use it as they please.
Jesse Routte, the managing director of Three Stone Consulting Ltd, gives an  insight on the research findings last week. (Doreen Umutesi)
Jesse Routte, the managing director of Three Stone Consulting Ltd, gives an insight on the research findings last week. (Doreen Umutesi)

Women activists have called for policy changes to allow people jointly owning a piece of land that is less than an hectare in size to use it as they please.

The request was based on concerns that when one of the co-owners of the land wants to sell their portion or use it separately for other reasons, it becomes difficult as the current land use policy does not allow the subdivision of one hectare piece of land. They said this situation can cause more (land-related) conflicts.

The request was made last week during a conference on issues women face in making decisions over land. 
The conference was organised by International Alert, Pro-Femmes Twese Hamwe and Imbaraga.

A report commissioned by International Alert, titled “Access Denied: Decision-making and joint control rights over land in Rwanda,” compared the ability of ‘ordinary’ women to assert their rights as compared to women in leadership roles.

The research was carried out in March among 116 women and 94 men in Ngoma, Rutsiro, Huye and Ngororero districts where International Alert Rwanda operates.

Women activists asked that if land would not continue to be fragmented, there should be a mechanism by which each of the co-owners has a certificate so that they can use such land easily.

“If I am a woman and I co-own land with my brother, the law does not allow me to take land which is less than one hectare so that I can sell it [as] I cannot get a certificate. In that process, for me to show [my] husband that I have property, you realise it is a problem. She said it makes women to be regarded as though they came empty-handed because land is very important,” said Betty Mutesi, the International Alert country director.

Angelique Dusenge, the project coordinator at Pro-Femme Twese Hamwe, said: “For the purpose of land use policy the community said it’s okay. But when one wants to get a loan, the bank would need the original certificate of the land and for me to sell my piece of land I will also need the original certificate, yet the current national land use policy does not allow the subdivision of one hectare piece of land. That’s where the process becomes complicated.”

Ignorance of rights

Results from the research indicate that ‘ordinary’ women are less aware of their rights, have less self-confidence, and are often illiterate, while those in leadership are usually literate and more equipped to claim their rights.

They further revealed that 40 per cent of women living in informal marriages are more vulnerable to gender-based violence related to land and that they can be chased away by their husbands any time due to the fact that they have no legal rights to the household property.

The research added that decisions in financial dimensions such as the selling of crops, the use of proceeds from sales and that from the leasing of the land are predominantly taken by men.

Mutesi said as long as only men made agrarian financial decisions, it was detrimental to women.

“If land is important for the livelihood for the family, yet both the wife and husband have no equal rights to it, it can affect the development of the households because often husbands get the money and spend it on drinks or marry another wife,” she said.

Denis Bikesha, legal advisor at Three Stones Consulting Ltd, the company that carried out the research, suggested that men engagement in women’s rights to land as well as positive masculinities should be in place.

The study also recommended that Article 206 of the Civil Code be amended as it states that a husband is the head of the household, implying that when he decides, no one in the family is entitled to oppose them for instance regarding making transactional decisions affecting household land.

Although not all land titles for the demarcated land are less than one hectare, about 11.3 million parcels of land have been demarcated in the country, with 9.1 million land titles distributed as of October 2015, according to the Rwanda Natural Resources Authority.

The National Land Policy in 2004 indicated that available arable land per family farm was just 0.6 hectares.

editorial@newtimes.co.rw

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