Women and Access to Land Rights in Communal Areas

R. Gaidzanwa

Quoted from R. Gaidzanwa, "Land and the Economic Empowerment of Women: A Gendered Analysis," SAFERE: Southern African Feminist Review 1 (1995): 1-12.

An examination of the rights of women to land in Zimbabwe reveals that it is in communal land that the majority of BLACK women have any hope of accessing and controlling land in any meaningful manner. In the commercial and resettlement sectors, here has been a substantial erosion of the land rights of most women as men are increasingly emancipated from customary demands for own use land from their wives and their kin. In the communal lands, the rights of women appear to have been better maintained as compared to the commercial and resettlement areas.

In the Zimbabwean land debate, the privatisation lobby has been quick to extol the virtues of giving freehold title to male landholders in communal areas while ignoring the crises in productivity, conservation and sustainability of the farming systems in many small scale commercial farming areas.

Generally, there has been resistance to examining the internal workings of the small commercial and peasant family farm in order to discern those factors that might have contributed to the crisis of small commercial and peasant farms in Zimbabwe. In particular, ignorance of their security those junior wives, daughters and younger sons of men in polygynous households, their lack of control over investment decisions, their lack of access and control over hrm assets and resources and their general lack of incentive to help the farms prosper is ignored. The appointment of sole heirs and the positive incentives for non-inheriting wives and children to loot and pillage the farms and their resources during the lifetime of the role husband and farm owners are not given due weight. In the end, it is assumed that all the family members have the same interests in the arable, residential and grazing land despite the existing legislative practices that sideline all but the eldest male son of a farm owner.

It is also important to note that some commercial farmland is not arable land. There is ranchland which is amenable to different management and husbandry practices compared with cropping land. However, these types of land have been discussed as if they were similar and interchangeable. With the advent of wildlife husbandry, horticultural land use as in flower growing and its different demands on male and female labour, there is a need to refine our analyses of land, its utilisation and the consequent gender issues that arise from such use. In the land debate, their has been no mention of gender and ranching of cattle and wildlife, the assumption being that it is enough for BLACK males to acquire ranchland on the same bases as white ranchers. This is just not acceptable in the current economic and social climate in Zimbabwe. Given that most of the communal areas of Zimbabwe are located in ecological regions 4 and 5 which are indicated for animal husbandry rather than cropping, the issue of gendered land use becomes very important.

Research that was conducted in 1993 by WlLSA and by ARA Techtop for the Land Tenure Commission in 1994 showed that there was wide variation in the devolution of land by gender in communal areas. In those areas where there was land pressure, headmen were tempted to sell land to those people with money to pay for it. In such areas, kin to deceased men were more likely to contest the inheritance rights of widows and children of deceased men to land and to disinherit them. In the communal areas, there were many traditions that were found to have been eroded. For example, land transactions in cash were quite common and over 50% of the married women did not have fields that are traditionally exclusive given over to women for their use in rural households. However, in comparison to women in the resettlement, and in small and large scale commercial farming areas, women in the communal areas seem to have more latitude in land-related decisions. The erosion in women's relationship to land as agriculture becomes more commercialised has been noted by Cheater (1984) and Weinrich (1975) and Gaidzanwa (1988). It is important to analyse the consequences of these findings with respect to women's futures in agriculture in Zimbabwe. (pages 9-10)

This material derives from Hyperland, a University of Zimbabwe hypertext project under the direction of Andrew Morrison, and I would like to thank him and the authors quoted for sharing their research with this website. [GPL]
Postcolonial Web Africa OV Zimbabwe OV [Politics]