During that period, Mkakilwa lived a life of isolation and seclusion, avoiding almost all social activities in the village. Rather than join other women and girls and face sullen faces staring at her, she chose to stick to herself most of the time. Of course there were relatives: girls, boys, women and men alike, who really didn’t mind what had happened and just went along with Mkakilwa as if nothing serious had happened.
And, come to think of it, nothing bad or really serious had happened. Rehema had confronted his father and demanded to be given a piece of the family land so that she could own it and decided what to do with it without having to consult anyone. That did not go well with most of the villagers. It was unheard of for a girl to demand to own a piece of the family land. Boys had the privilege to inherit land. Sometimes they were given it by the parents once they became adults. But not girls! Custom made it clear that women had no right to own land. If the husband owns land then she too owns it but would have no say about it. If the family owns land then the head of the family, the father, has the final say about it.
“I broke the traditional and cultural barriers. I jumped over tribal customs to demand the right to own part of the family land and I finally won the battle. My father gave me two hectares from the family land. I was free to decide what to do with it and need not consult my father or anyone else about the decisions I would take,” she says. “No girl or woman had done it before but I think it was worth the trouble; I have two hectares of land to my name now,” she adds.
Mkakilwa’s success story is hinged on two things: she had the courage to face her father and demand the right to own land and she was confident that her father would give in to her demands, thanks to the training offered by HAKIARDHI through its Ardhi Yetu programme that armed her with the courage and the confidence to take that decision.
The project seeks to promote rights of women to own land and other property and protect these rights. It also aims to build the capacity of disadvantaged women, particularly those who live in the rural areas; so that they use land and other property they own to reduce poverty in their families. It also works with community members to phase out traditions that oppress women and deny them rights to own land and other property.
“We want to create a future where women have equal rights under the law, and equal respect in the home and the community. We help these women gain equal access to land and other property and equal status in their communities through training and awareness raising campaigns. Through education and awareness raising campaigns they gain confidence to stand up for their rights, ” says Augustine Munuma, Monitoring ad Evaluation Officer for HAKIARDHI.
In some districts like Kilolo and Kilombero where HAKIARDHI and partner civil society organisations are conducting the Ardhi Yetu Programme, many women acknowledge the importance of owning land as individuals. Awareness of land rights is high. A case in point is one village in Kilombero District where 550 women have been issued with Certificates of Customary Right of Occupancy (CCROs). “This is almost three times more than the number issued to men. It is testimony that many women have now changed their mindset about land ownership and exercise this right,” says Joseph Chiombola, Senior Programmes Officer at HAKIARDHI. The change of attitude among women can be traced back to the training they get during various workshops and what they learn from success stories like that of Rehema Mkakilwa.
However more has to be done for many rural women to join the group of successful land owners. Some women become uncomfortable when their names and photographs appear on the certificates especially when they own the piece of land with their spouses. Others are even reluctant to collect their certificates from the village land offices. “I think they need more education and encouragement in order to gain confidence that they can own land. After decades of oppression by men through deep-rooted culture and traditions, it might not be easy for them to change their mindset quickly,” says Augustine Munuma, Monitoring and Evaluation Officer for HAKIARDHI.
In many communities where tribal norms and customs still operate, land is still owned by men, in principle, and women automatically subscribe to these principles. The result is that women might own land but men have the final say on that land. Even in cases where men do not enforce such principles, women lack the courage to make decisions and transfer that power to men. When this happens, women become insecure and have to live at the mercy of men.
Insecure land rights impact many women in the world, leaving them vulnerable to poverty and abuse. For these women land is their most basic and most life-giving asset. It is a source of food and income. It also provides habitat and security for the family. When a woman owns a piece of land it becomes an instrument of shifting the balance of power in the community, breaking down the barriers that women experience in their daily lives and moving toward greater gender equality. To move in that direction they need courage and confidence which government and civil society must help to build.