For years, Amina Hassan (32) and her husband Omari Musa (40), worked as agricultural labourers generating wealth on behalf of other land owners.
But no matter how many hours they toiled in other people’s farms, they never earned enough to buy three proper meals a day for themselves and their three children.
Anna and her children often suffered from stomach pains and infections caused by their poor diet. It was a life of unending suffering for the five-member family.
“My husband would beat me up everyday and my in-laws never valued me as I did not own any property,” says Amina, a resident of the Mikese town in Morogoro district. Situated along the Dar es Salaam-Morogoro highway, the village is famous for cultivation of tomatoes and onions.
To fight the creeping poverty, Amina and fellow poor landless women in her village applied collectively for a loan to buy a plot of land through a programme designed in part by the Village Agricultural Committee.
Today, she grows much of the maize and tomatoes her family needs on the plot she owns and sells the excess. With that income, she bought two cows, which today produce more milk for her family.
With the income from the surplus produce and milk, Amina has since made improvements on her home and plot, helps support other relatives, pays school fees for her children, and offers loans to other poverty-stricken women in the village.
“My life has totally changed. My children are going to school and my irate husband has stopped beating me. I draw strength from the land I own,” she says proudly.
More than 50 percent of women in rural Tanzania are agricultural producers who do not have control over the benefit of the land. It is the husbands and clan heads who have the final say on control over the land.
The majority of Tanzanian women making more than 50 percent have no rights to own land. Another problem, according to land rights experts, has been the inadequate analysis of the gender aspect of changes in land tenure system.
In the customary land law women have been caught between cultural and traditional restrictions which deny them independent land ownership rights.
Like all other Tanzanian citizens, women have the legal right to own land under the 1998 Land Act. However, due to lack of independent financial resources and traditional gender role, women rarely buy land, either independently or jointly with their husbands, and household land is commonly titled only in the name of the male head of the household.
Women living in household that own land often access to land but rarely have legal ownership rights to that land.
According to the Tanzania Women Lawyers Association (TAWLA) and other land rights researchers, few women in Tanzania hold any land in their own name or even jointly with their husbands.
“Women may have had the right to apply for benefits under current and former land allocations schemes, but often rural women, especially the uneducated ones, are unaware of the resources and schemes that might help them,” says a lawyer with TAWLA.
In Tanzania, rural women, non-governmental organisations, policy-makers and researchers have all become aware of the multiple benefits to be had by granting women secure rights to land, including drastically enhanced security, increased and secure income, ability to access credit and government programmes and increased leverage and respect with the household.
Now Tanzania has begun to address women’s insecure right to land by passing some progressive legislation like the 1998 Land Act. Unfortunately, the intended benefits of these laws are not reaching the most needy women.
Some – especially the poor and uneducated – are still unaware of these laws, they don’t not exercise their rights because of social pressures against asserting them or because they lack knowledge about how to assert them.
Land rights experts believe that investing in a woman’s land rights creates an extraordinary ripple effect that spreads to her family, village, and beyond.
Obviously, low rates of women land ownership significantly impede their access to financial assets, including credit and saving, thus thwarting government efforts in poverty eradication among its populace.