Over 60% of women in the Rukwa and Katavi regions in Tanzania are engaged in farming activities, but most lack land and other resources. Although the constitution and Village Land Act guarantee that women (like men) have the right to land and other productive resources, in reality many are left out due to tradition and cultural practices. Village meetings focusing on public sensitization are changing the tide.

‘I don’t think it’s fair for a woman to own land,’ Mashaka Dotto at Ilalanguru Village stated, ‘because at any time she can get married and move to another man. Also, a man is the leader of the family, hence he is the only one entitled to land ownership.’

‘The issue of land ownership by women still triggers heated debate as most men still doubt if it is right for women to own land,’ says Elias Mtinda, Agriculture and Land Rights Manager at Action Aid Tanzania.

Village dialogues to change the tide
In an effort to address the issues that restrict women from their right to access and control natural resources – especially land – in collaboration with LEAT, Haki Ardhi and other community based groups in Rukwa and Katavi regions, Action Aid Tanzania organised a series of village public sensitisation dialogues. These were aimed at empowering vulnerable groups on their right to land and other productive resources.

‘The dialogues were conducted in 10 villages in the districts of Kalambo, Nsimbo, Mpimbwe and Sumbawanga DC,’ says Mtinda. The forums brought together 1,086 participants, of which 347 were women. ‘Key issues discussed include gender equality, natural resources conservation, land rights and land use planning.’

Lack of participation in decision-making
Lack of effective participation of women in decision-making bodies, forums and meetings is one of the challenges addressed. Godfrid Nkuba, Community Development Officer in the Mpimbwe district, explains: ‘It’s difficult for women to speak in front of men. Sometimes we separate them from men to better enable them to speak. But the situation is improving due to the awareness programmes we have been conducting in collaboration with our partners.’

Women have stated that it will take time for them to be able to realise their full rights to access and control resources due to the patriarchal system prevalent in their communities. ‘In our society, women are still not valued, and they don’t have any voice,’ says Juliana Samson from Mirumba Village. ‘Sometimes when a woman speaks at a meeting, people will start to discuss and judge her. Some are beaten by their husbands when they try to be vocal.’

Knowledge and awareness for behavioural change
Yet the women are also optimistic that knowledge and awareness on women’s rights and especially the right to access and control to land will help to facilitate behavioural change.