Women must be the focus of land redistribution

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A woman’s ability to own, inherit and control land and property is vital for her ability to access resources and participate in the economy.

In many countries, including South Africa, the Constitution and international obligations promise equal protection and equality with regards to accessing economic benefits. The reality is that laws and practices continue to constrain women’s rights, and discriminatory practices continue with the horrific levels of gender-based violence against women.

This is an indication of the value placed on women in our society.

The South African economy over the past two decades has not structurally transformed, and has frighteningly high levels of poverty and labour market exclusion. Exclusion from the economy is predominant in Africans, women and people with disabilities in the population.

This worsens for those living in rural versus urban areas, with poverty and lack of opportunity prevalent for women living in rural areas. The question of land and access to ownership is important because land is recognised as a source of power and social status, and of wealth generation.

In South Africa, many women do not have legal ownership rights to the land on which they live and work because they are dependent on spouses and land ownership patterns through relatives due to the plural legal system and customary law.

The formal rights enshrined in a plethora of legislative developments have not translated into substantive property rights for the majority of South Africans.

The latest audit on land ownership trends in the country, which look place last year, reflects that Africans constitute 79% of the population as individuals directly owning 1.2% of rural land. The land audit also shows that whites own 72% of total farm and agricultural holdings, coloureds own 15%, Indians own 5% and Africans 4%.

Women own only 13% of farms and agricultural land, while men own 71%. The same land audit shows that erven ownership is also disproportionately controlled by men.

The Commission for Gender Equality believes that the land ownership pattern is reflective of the conditions that prevailed during the pre-democratic era.

It is not only the inequitable land ownership issue that must be addressed, but also the existence of discriminatory gender practices and policies that continue to provide powerful barriers that marginalise most women.

Policies, reforms and proposals within national and provincial departments have shown a continued failure to ensure vulnerable groups such as women, youngsters, people with disabilities and child-headed households are beneficiaries of the departmental programmes of economic transformation.

Women’s participation in food production is high, particularly in subsistence farming. However, data are not readily available on the right to access land and how it is regulated by customary law or land tenureship systems that do not promote equal access to land for women.

This means there is little correlation between the work put into food production and women reaping the returns of such production.

Furthermore, women’s access to land is also limited due to discriminatory power structures that still operate in communities and households, particularly in rural communities that do not promote the rights of women to access and own land.

The department of women’s Status of Women in the SA Economy report showed that land ownership enabled agricultural productivity and promoted food security. Yet, among the various programmes in government, none has identified women as a core target. In the land redistribution, land tenure reform and land restitution programmes, no emphasis is placed on gender equality.

The Commission for Gender Equality therefore proposes that redistribution, reform and restitution programmes have a gender focus in the alteration and consideration of the amendment of the Constitution to redistribute land without compensation.

The general wellbeing of households is linked to women, which is closely aligned to their economic participation. Their access to income affects household access to healthcare, education and sanitation, among other basic rights.

Women must be given the right to receive not only education, but also assets and economic resources that will liberate them from poverty and enable them to be economically active participants in society.

Structural conditions that improve women’s economic participation require focus, parallel to improved ownership and access to land. Women cannot be left on the sidelines any longer.

This discussion of land redistribution should include every woman and girl child, allowing them access to ownership of land and property. That is true empowerment.

- Moleko is a commissioner with the Commission for Gender Equality

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