Women and Land Rights Struggle in Kenya
By Oliech Okun
KISUMU COUNTY, KENYA – 28-year-old Tina Anyango (not her real name) aged 28 is a widow living in Kuoyo Kaila, East seme Ward in Kisumu County. She is living with HIV which robbed her of the man she has lived with and loved for the past eight years. Her husband’s death left her solely responsible for taking care of their two children and one acre of land she and her husband used to farm together.
Months after her husband’s funeral, trouble started. Her in-laws accused her of bringing the malady into the family. She was accused of being responsible for her husband’s death. They wanted her out of the piece of land. Her in-laws sold her husband’s land without her knowledge. She only realised this when the buyer came to evict her and her children from the piece of land.
Tina was forced to survive on society’s margin and ended up going into sex work just to provide for her two children and herself.
“Life is not easy, I have been subjected to violence and a lot of sexual abuse as I go about with my sex work. I wish I had my land back. I would not be doing this.” she says.
Tina’s plight is a common one for most women in rural Kenya.
Rural women in Kenya contribute to 70 percent of food production. They also account for nearly half of all farm labour. They often lack rights to own land. In rural areas Land rights tend to be held by men or kinship groups controlled by men. Women have access mainly through a male relative, usually a father or husband. Even then, the land can be taken away from them at any moment. Women are also routinely obliged to hand over the proceeds of any farm sales to a male and have little say over how those earnings are used.
However, Article 40 of the Kenyan constitution states that: “Subject to Article 65, every person has the right, either individually or in association with others, to acquire and own property of any description; and in any part of Kenya. Article 60 further gives the principles in which Land in Kenya shall be held, used and managed, and one of the principles is the elimination of gender discrimination in law, customs and practices related to land and property in land”.
While these laws are fine in theory, implementation has proved difficult because Kenya is still a patriarchal society where the man is considered the head of household and therefore has the rightful authority over the land.
What rural women want is their basic rights to own land and equal rights of property ownership to be respected as stipulated in the law.
To address land rights, we must first address the unequal power relations within families. Unless we change the power relations, the legal definition of who has rights may not make much of a difference.
So much effort has been put into legal reforms. Laws and policies are important, and we should continue trying to change them and make those changes happen. However, the government needs to improve their technical and financial capacity to implement the land laws.
To do this, the government to bring all inheritance and property laws into harmony with the constitution for more coherence. Also, legal institutions responsible for implementing the land laws need to operate equitably, be women-friendly and not limit their work to urban areas.