English translation by community member irenelucia
Women and the indigenous pygmy communities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo do not have land access. This is the outcome of the baseline study on land tenure (ERT) conducted by the Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI), an international NGO that advocates for indigenous peoples’ and local communities’ right to land and forest tenure.
Started in 2012 at the same time as the land reform process in the DRC, the study aimed to facilitate a process to advance an agenda founded on the rights of the poor in the land and forestry sector; it also endeavored to promote a stronger intersectoral approach for improved coordination between different sectors.
The ERT found that, despite the non-discriminatory nature of the current land legislation towards certain demographic groups, women and pygmies were the most marginalized in terms of land tenure, due to the the dual nature of the law, which recognizes the power of the state as well as common law.
In most customary land tenure systems, women only enjoy the right to cultivate the land. As for the parental inheritance system, they are completely ignored in rural areas where customary law has a very strong influence on the organization of social life. In urban areas, women can own land, by purchasing it as well as by inheriting it, providing that their families bequeath them the inheritance.
The findings are that rural women work the land but do not own it; a large part of what they do is agriculture, to meet their families’ dietary and economic needs. In wooded areas, they practice slash-and-burn agriculture, which destroys the forest.
As for pygmies, they are considered almost everywhere in the DRC to have no land rights. Those with land rights –– who are, depending on the situation, political leaders, land chiefs, or members of tribes or land-owning families ––, do not give land to indigenous people, but they use their labor without giving real compensation. They tolerate pygmies on their “ancestral lands."
In fact, pygmies have been marginalized by the Bantu people since the dawn of time, and their living spaces are governed by the customary chief (who is Bantu) and therefore in his possession. He can do what he wants with it. Sometimes pygmies are even hunted. The PA have come together and organized, and the Congolese parliament is currently reviewing a law that includes the recognition of the basic rights of indigenous peoples, including land rights.
The situation experienced by women and indigenous peoples in the DRC reinforces their already alarming state of extreme poverty and makes it more and more difficult for them to access any form of livelihood. Especially since we know that rural populations make up ¾ of the Congolese population (at an estimated rate of 66.7% in 2011), current land law does not protect them –– hence the need for effective advocacy for land reform, which preserves natural resources and guarantees their right to them.
Another major fact noted in the study is that the current legislation does not protect the forest communities when up against the timber logging companies, mines, and oil and agriculture companies that acquire their land. The state gives them concessions without considering the well-being of the surrounding population. In cases of land disputes between these entities, the state rules –– almost every time –– in favor of forest concessions, which has the effect of transforming the forest from a local community forest into a permanent production forest. And, since it does not have a forest concession itself, the local community can only take from its forest limited resources, all dietary in nature. Only concessions can truly clear the way for logging, wielding economic necessity.
To conclude, given that the biggest victims of land rights issues are women and indigenous peoples, the study recommends improving their livelihoods, which will help reduce the poverty and vulnerability of rural populations. This starts with recognizing and guaranteeing local rights and securing land tenure. The state policy on land issues has a considerable impact on sources of livelihood and rural development. Nearly 65% of Congolese people depend on forest to live, while nearly 80% depend on agriculture.