Women in the DRC are fighting for land rights and reducing gender-based violence.

Mar 29, 2024 | News

Since centuries, the DRC’s male land ownership has prevented women from gaining their own livelihoods. In one region, women are pushing for economic independence.

Justin Kulimushi says, “Since Angelique bought her land, I have seen a huge change in our family.” “Before, I used to drink all the money I earned and not give any of it to my family. “When I came home, she could insult me and I would sometimes hit her,” says the man, speaking on Zoom through an interpreter in Swahili. “Now her field helps feed our family and we no longer go hungry. Now I really appreciate Angelique .”

Angelique Mwa Namupopa lives with her husband and nine children in Nyangezi. This is a cluster of 43 farming communities near Bukavu, in south Kivu of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In the DRC, as in most developing nations, few women own land. Only a fifth of landowners are women, despite the fact that they make up almost half of all agricultural workers worldwide. “In the Congo, the landowners are the wealthy.” Women who do not have access to land are likely to remain poor and marginalised, says Chantal Kizungu of Women for Women International in Bukavu.

The charity has been working in Nyangezi for the past five years to educate women and male community leaders about women’s rights to land and gender-based violence. WfWi’s approach is unique: While most land rights projects around the world aim to change land policies and national laws, WfWi believes that the real challenge lies with customary laws.

The 2005 DRC Constitution grants equal rights to men and women. In recent years, the country has passed laws that strengthen gender equality and ratified international agreements. These laws are rarely enforced, especially in rural areas where centuries-old traditions predominate.

Mwa Namupopa, who now owns her own land, worked on other people’s fields for a daily stipend of about 1$ (PS0.75), which is the price of one small measure of manioc.

“I didn’t know that a woman could use her husband’s land.” “I didn’t realize that a wife could use her husbands land .”

Since I received my land certificate, I have gained weight. In our community, people gain weight when they feel good.

Kizungu explains that “in our culture, the male is the supreme head of the family.” When it’s harvest, men often come back and drink the proceeds, then beat their wives. Women are often abused because they are viewed as inferior, with no value or voice .”

Mwa Namupopa’s life began to change in 2020 when she was selected, along with 20 other influential men and women, by WfWi to be “agents for change” – grassroots activists who were coached and then could share their experiences with their families and larger communities through dialogue, workshops, and radio programmes.

Mwa Namupopa: “We learned that the Congolese laws protect women’s rights and that customs cannot be above the law.” “We discussed regional, national, and international laws that protect women’s rights. We also discussed how customs can never be above the law .”

Angelique Mwa Namupopa and her land certificate

Mwa Namupopa discussed what she had learned and encouraged her husband to attend a discussion group for men. Kulimushi: “We learned that women are human beings with the same rights as men.”

She was surprised to find out that he had agreed when Mwa Namupopa requested some land. “I could see how giving Angelique this land would benefit our family,” says he.

Not all men were so easily convinced. Kizungu says that some young men believed that the land they gave to their mothers was a lost inheritance. Others feared women would leave once they owned their own land.

Already 145 women have received land titles through the scheme. Around 300 more applications are awaiting approval.

So far, 145 women have obtained land titles. An estimated 300 more applications are still pending. Men gave 176 of these plots to their wives. WfWi continues to receive requests to expand the project to other villages. The organisation does not have the funds at this time to continue.

Mwa Namupopa’s land ownership was a game changer. “[Since] getting my land certificate, i’ve gained weight.” “In our community, when we feel good, we gain weight,” she says, beaming.

She has cleared 70m by 60m of land, cutting down banana trees to plant manioc, maize and beans. “Now, every three months I get a good harvest, enough to feed my entire family.”

Kizungu says that land rights have a significant and extensive impact on women. “When a women owns her field, she will be economically independent and this will reduce the risk of domestic abuse. The land will provide income for her entire family and be passed on to her children. Women invest their proceeds in their family, paying for health, household and school needs. This has a cascading effect on her children .”

Images: WfWi

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