Imagine being denied to earn a viable income simply because you are a woman. Well, for millions of Ugandan women this is the situation for those who live in the rural areas, which make up 86% of the total population. Agricultural production is the backbone of the Ugandan economy, without it many would starve to death, as many are doing especially in the northern regions of the country and many would become destitute as many of my sisters without land are in a patriarchal country such as Uganda.
Although women represent a majority of the agricultural labor force, they are denied owing their own land if they are married, divorced or widowed. Why one may ask, because under the Customary Laws, women are not allowed to own land and this law is the main system of land rights. Under this system the land belongs to the family and generally handed down to a chosen male as the heir. A woman is able to utilize the land under the umbrella of the family as a legal co-owner. However if he dies or divorces her, then she becomes vulnerable to the relatives taking over the land. In some cases, a male relative of the family may want to take over the land and sell it to make a profit, but in other cases he may leave her on the land as long as she doesn’t remarry. If she remarries, then that sets the stage for more hostile family relations.
Despite Ugandan women having more political power than many women in Africa, it took 35 years for us to receive co-ownership rights to land though the Domestic Relations Bill to become co-owners of land. This law came into effect to recognize co-wives as having equal rights to share the land with their husbands, but not to increase women’s ownership of land. Hence, our rights to land exist as a result of our relationship to the men in our families. According to the book Gender and Economic Grown in Uganda: Unleashing the Power of Women by co-authors Ellis and Blackden (2003), women represent 51% of the population in Uganda and overwhelming contribute the most to agricultural production yet, we only represent 8% of land ownership, while men represent 92%. Where is the justice in that?
How can such discrepancies exist, one may ask, because as women we have become to dependent on men to provide us with economic security despite our ability to make contributions in this area. I suggest that as women we begin to purchase land for our female children so they can acquire economic independence outside of the traditional system of land ownership. After having waited 35 years to acquire co-ownership mush we wait another 35 more to obtain a viable economic livelihood? Must we wait for the laws to change or must we change our attitudes and allow the law to catch up in its own time, but not without a fight.
As for my female headed household, and me I have decided to acquire land without the assistance of a man and put in my living will that both my male and female children become heirs to the land. I have allocated portions of the land to each of them and instill in my male and female children their responsibility to ensure land is shared among all siblings especially the female so they will not wind up destitute after the divorce or death of a husband. The best solution for women in Uganda regarding land ownership is to begin a practice of self-ownership outside the matrimony of marriage to ensure their own economic viability. For it is only when we take responsibility for our own economic security that we are sure to have it with or without a man. We might be out of land, but certainly not out of the power to fight for it.