Malawian Women Facing it Hard to Own Land


Since the issue of Gender Equality started taking root in the Southern African country of Malawi in the early 1990s, the nation mustered a lot of efforts to ensure that women economic empowerment is enhanced.
As proof to these efforts Malawi as a country demonstrated an initiative in this regard by appending its signature to a number of instruments that sought to end poverty that has hit women the hardest, like the Millennium Development Goals, Beijing Platform for Action, and African Union Protocol on the Rights of Women to mention but a few.
Despite all the efforts there has been one aspect of women empowerment which has skipped the spotlight and it still is one lingering problem in Malawi where owning property like land for a woman is not only a tall order but has become source of abuse in other quarters.
Investigations reveal that some women have suffered destitution due to cultural factors that left them with no land for housing and farming.
In Malawi and a good part of Africa and Asia land ownership is considered a male realm, mainly because of several factors although cultural practices that marginalise women in this regard takes a centre stage.
Many Malawian women have become destitute while others have lost lives because of their efforts to claim ownership over a piece of land.
Anastasia Mwanza, a 45 year old widow of Mkombanyama Village, Traditional Authority Mwaulambia’s area in Chitipa was married to a man in Nkhata-bay but upon his death she was forced to move back to her maiden home in Chitipa.
However, she was forced to look at impoverishment right in the face as she had no where to live since tradition has it that a woman has no where to build her house or cultivate crops at her maiden home as the belief is that she will have land at her marriage home.
To make matters worse she was also denied land that her brother who had passed away had left. “Sometimes this world can be very cruel; my own traditional leaders refused me to take over my late brother’s land saying I am a woman and I cannot manage it,” she, says before asking, “Can you believe this?”
Another woman in the same village Rosta Nakanyika a mother of six who does not know her age, lost the land which they used to cultivate with her husband, the moment he passed away.
“Relatives from my late husband came in droves and took everything I had. Now I cannot support my children I cannot farm anywhere and I do not know where to go,” she moaned.
Catherine Munthali of the Society for the Advancement of Women (SAW) says the Issue of land owning is a very complex issue because Malawi still maintains two systems of families that is patrineal and matrineal and in both systems there is no clear indication of how a woman owns land.
“In patrineal system a woman owns land under the father and that is when she is not married, the fact that she is still a daughter she has access land,” she explains.
“But when she gets married and leaves her father’s home to go to her husband’s home she forfeits that land because what it means is that she is no longer in the hands of the father since there is dowry that is involved in between the families. But this still has its problems,” explained Munthali further.
Even in the absence of a legal framework, her organisation has nevertheless fought and won some battles for women who were disinherited their land.
“We have taken to task some men that try to take advantage of women; in some cases we have used our lawyers who have successfully represented the abused women and won some cases,” she says.
Chairperson of the NGO Gender Network Emma Kaliya observes that in Malawi sometimes all what women have is access to land while control over that land rests in the hands of the men.
“Even when the woman is a traditional leader, she still cannot make decisions over some land issues; you find that she calls men related to her to make a final say,” she says.
Since traditional means seems to be in much control over these issues, traditional leadership across the country seem to be awash with cases of land disputes whose victims are mostly women who look up to the traditional leaders as their life line.
Traditional Authority Mwaulambia of Chitipa district says he has been solving problems where women were disinherited their land and explains the basis which is used to resolve such matters.
“In my area I enforce that a woman has to be given land based on the need, necessity and her desperation and not based on some of our outdated traditional laws,” he says.
It is not like the women themselves do not have solutions in sight to solve problems they are facing. Anastasia Mwanza thinks a solution could be found by making a plea to the authority.
“I beseech government and all non governmental organisations not to leave us fight our battles. They have to assist us because even when we win some of these battles you find that men will still come to steal from our farms just to make sure that we are so desperate and ask for some assistance from them and in turn you find that they say you have to exchange it with a sexual relationship,” says Mwanza.
While Mwanza is making this plea, NGO Gender Coordination Network Chairperson Kaliya has a totally different view to the matter she thinks it all boils down to enacting our laws and enforcing land policy to protect women. But will women in Malawi one day own land?
“Unless our policy and laws are re-looked women in Malawi will never own land; of course the commercial land which those that have money can afford to buy can sometimes belong to women but for the customary land I don’t think women will ever own it,” she declares.
Government says it is not just sitting idle as it has developed a number of laws that will protect women and cap on its effort to finally ensure that women are empowered even through the provisions of ensuring that they own land.
Fiona Mwale is senior Programs Officer for the Malawi Law Commission and explains how they intend to achieve this by first explaining how this has been incorporated in a number of laws.
“The Law Commission has recently finalised a land reform programme where ownership of land is changing so that these issues where women are disinherited from land for whatever reasons ; the distinction between private land, customary land or public land are going to disappear and once this bill on land reform passes then this will be history,” she says.
However while government banks its hope on the laws to help the woman, thousands of women in Malawi and other parts of the world still suffer destitution.
How ironic when it is the women who have mothered the very people that refuse them land ownership. And this therefore laughs at government effort to achieve gender equality.

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Malawian Women Facing it Hard to Own Land


Since the issue of Gender Equality started taking root in the Southern African country of Malawi in the early 1990s, the nation mustered a lot of efforts to ensure that women economic empowerment is enhanced.
As proof to these efforts Malawi as a country demonstrated an initiative in this regard by appending its signature to a number of instruments that sought to end poverty that has hit women the hardest, like the Millennium Development Goals, Beijing Platform for Action, and African Union Protocol on the Rights of Women to mention but a few.
Despite all the efforts there has been one aspect of women empowerment which has skipped the spotlight and it still is one lingering problem in Malawi where owning property like land for a woman is not only a tall order but has become source of abuse in other quarters.
Investigations reveal that some women have suffered destitution due to cultural factors that left them with no land for housing and farming.
In Malawi and a good part of Africa and Asia land ownership is considered a male realm, mainly because of several factors although cultural practices that marginalise women in this regard takes a centre stage.
Many Malawian women have become destitute while others have lost lives because of their efforts to claim ownership over a piece of land.
Anastasia Mwanza, a 45 year old widow of Mkombanyama Village, Traditional Authority Mwaulambia’s area in Chitipa was married to a man in Nkhata-bay but upon his death she was forced to move back to her maiden home in Chitipa.
However, she was forced to look at impoverishment right in the face as she had no where to live since tradition has it that a woman has no where to build her house or cultivate crops at her maiden home as the belief is that she will have land at her marriage home.
To make matters worse she was also denied land that her brother who had passed away had left. “Sometimes this world can be very cruel; my own traditional leaders refused me to take over my late brother’s land saying I am a woman and I cannot manage it,” she, says before asking, “Can you believe this?”
Another woman in the same village Rosta Nakanyika a mother of six who does not know her age, lost the land which they used to cultivate with her husband, the moment he passed away.
“Relatives from my late husband came in droves and took everything I had. Now I cannot support my children I cannot farm anywhere and I do not know where to go,” she moaned.
Catherine Munthali of the Society for the Advancement of Women (SAW) says the Issue of land owning is a very complex issue because Malawi still maintains two systems of families that is patrineal and matrineal and in both systems there is no clear indication of how a woman owns land.
“In patrineal system a woman owns land under the father and that is when she is not married, the fact that she is still a daughter she has access land,” she explains.
“But when she gets married and leaves her father’s home to go to her husband’s home she forfeits that land because what it means is that she is no longer in the hands of the father since there is dowry that is involved in between the families. But this still has its problems,” explained Munthali further.
Even in the absence of a legal framework, her organisation has nevertheless fought and won some battles for women who were disinherited their land.
“We have taken to task some men that try to take advantage of women; in some cases we have used our lawyers who have successfully represented the abused women and won some cases,” she says.
Chairperson of the NGO Gender Network Emma Kaliya observes that in Malawi sometimes all what women have is access to land while control over that land rests in the hands of the men.
“Even when the woman is a traditional leader, she still cannot make decisions over some land issues; you find that she calls men related to her to make a final say,” she says.
Since traditional means seems to be in much control over these issues, traditional leadership across the country seem to be awash with cases of land disputes whose victims are mostly women who look up to the traditional leaders as their life line.
Traditional Authority Mwaulambia of Chitipa district says he has been solving problems where women were disinherited their land and explains the basis which is used to resolve such matters.
“In my area I enforce that a woman has to be given land based on the need, necessity and her desperation and not based on some of our outdated traditional laws,” he says.
It is not like the women themselves do not have solutions in sight to solve problems they are facing. Anastasia Mwanza thinks a solution could be found by making a plea to the authority.
“I beseech government and all non governmental organisations not to leave us fight our battles. They have to assist us because even when we win some of these battles you find that men will still come to steal from our farms just to make sure that we are so desperate and ask for some assistance from them and in turn you find that they say you have to exchange it with a sexual relationship,” says Mwanza.
While Mwanza is making this plea, NGO Gender Coordination Network Chairperson Kaliya has a totally different view to the matter she thinks it all boils down to enacting our laws and enforcing land policy to protect women. But will women in Malawi one day own land?
“Unless our policy and laws are re-looked women in Malawi will never own land; of course the commercial land which those that have money can afford to buy can sometimes belong to women but for the customary land I don’t think women will ever own it,” she declares.
Government says it is not just sitting idle as it has developed a number of laws that will protect women and cap on its effort to finally ensure that women are empowered even through the provisions of ensuring that they own land.
Fiona Mwale is senior Programs Officer for the Malawi Law Commission and explains how they intend to achieve this by first explaining how this has been incorporated in a number of laws.
“The Law Commission has recently finalised a land reform programme where ownership of land is changing so that these issues where women are disinherited from land for whatever reasons ; the distinction between private land, customary land or public land are going to disappear and once this bill on land reform passes then this will be history,” she says.
However while government banks its hope on the laws to help the woman, thousands of women in Malawi and other parts of the world still suffer destitution.
How ironic when it is the women who have mothered the very people that refuse them land ownership. And this therefore laughs at government effort to achieve gender equality.

NGO Warns Political Parties for not Involving the Youth


One of the country’s Non Governmental Organisations is warning political parties in the country that do not have young parliamentary candidates not to cry foul when they will start to work with them prior to the elections.

Youth net and Counselling YONECO says it has lined up a number of programmes that will target young parliamentary aspirants for all political parties in the country.

YONECO Executive Director Mr. McBain Mkandawire has however said political parties that have no young parliamentary aspirants should therefore not brand them as partisan when the programme starts.

As of December 29 2008, there were known 26 young people who had won primary elections to represent different political parties in the country in the parliamentary polls set for May 19th this year.

Executive Director for Youth net and Counselling YONECO Mr. McBain Mkandawire says they have sourced funds from the United Nations Democracy Fund which will carter for different programmes that will prepare the young aspirants.

One of the activities will be constant meetings with the would be young politicians that will include trainings in advocacy, campaigning techniques, and public speaking among others.

He said since other political parties do not have young parliamentary aspirants there is a danger that they will feel sidelined and start making unnecessary noise.

Although different organisations vigorously campaigned for the inclusion of youths and women when political parties would be fielding its parliamentary candidates political parties did not take heed.

In a last ditch attempt to gun for support for women representation in parliament, Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation has said it will be meeting leaders of all political parties in country.

CHRR Executive Director Mr. Undule Mwakasungula said his organization has proposed to with the top three political parties in the country.

“Primary elections that several political parties have conducted have shown that women have once again been marginalized,” he said.

Mwakasungula said they intend to meet the United Democratic Front UDF chairperson Dr. Bakili Muluzi, Malawi Congress Party MCP President Mr. John Tembo as well as Democratic Progressive Party DPP and State President Dr. Bingu wa Mutharika.

“Women are supposed to been given an opportunity to take part in politics because they have been marginalized for long, but what was more bothersome is in the way political parties have conducted primaries elections for aspiring Member of Parliament which has marginalized them further,” he said.

Registration of voters is now reaching an end and over 4 million voters have been registered.

The Malawi Electoral Commission has now started getting nomination forms for all those aspiring to contest as Members of Parliament for Malawi 193-member national assembly.

Since the process is characterised by violence aspirants at Malawi’s border district Chitipa has resolved that party supporters should not escort their candidates.

The District Commissioner Charles Mwawembe confirmed of the decision by the district’s Multiparty Liaison Committee and said as the returning officer he has adopted the resolution.

“The committee reached this consensus after observing that political violence start during this time when aspirants are presenting their nomination papers, especially when escorted by their supporters,” he said.

Sugarcane Company Chases Villagers from their Land


Over three hundred people in Malawi’s lakeshore area of Dwangwa in Nkhotakota District have no where to go since the Malawi Police Service officers hired by Dwangwa Cane Growers Limited demolished their houses, beat them up and destroyed their crops from their garden in November last year.

The people some claiming to have constructed makeshift shacks along river banks while others have sought refugees in their relatives’ homes claim that all their efforts to get assistance from authorities including the District Commissioner’s office has borne no fruits.

Nkhotakota District Commissioner Charles Thombodzi refused to grant audience to this journalist.

Close to the place where the people were displaced are over 130 men and 90 women some with small babies looking desperate others with blank hopeless faces living in shacks.

The people who said have been struggling to keep their land for the last four years, finally lost the battle on the night of November 13th last year when bull dozers and police officers descended on a number of villages and started demolishing their houses before they went to their gardens where they also destroyed their crops.

The people claim that Dwangwa Cane Growers Limited has been using Traditional Authority Kanyenda of the area and government institutions like the police and the office of the District assembly to victimize them as well as blocking them to seek justice.

Although the High Court made a ruling on December 3, 2007 on the issue, where Judge Justice Twea ordered that the people should be left to make use of the land since the legal position is that when one is allotted customary land, one has the right to user for the surface only.

Based on this ruling and other investigations, the then District Commissioner Mr. Khumbo Tchongwe wrote Dwangwa Cane Growers Limited in May last year ordering them to compensate people whose crops the company damaged and that the land on which the company has now grown sugarcane without the consent of the land owners be given back to the owners immediately.

However, instead of the police working on the matter they were hired by the company to guard workers on the land who are still under threat of attack from the people who were displaced.

Traditional Authority Kanyenda said the houses and crops had to be destroyed.

“These people were resisting development just like was the case with the Kayerekera Uranium Project,” he said.

He claimed that the late Hasting Kamuzu Banda Malawi’s first President declared the land a protected area when he was President of this country and this was all they followed.

However, Village Headman Mzwale who together with three other village Headmen were affected claim that they have been turned into refugees in their own hand because the Traditional Chief does not have the welfare of his subjects at heart.

The Church and Society Programme of the CCAP Livingstonia Synod which has now taken up the issue as a monitoring arm of the Malawi Human Rights Commission said the issue borders on the abuse of human rights and contempt of court and they will soon take an action to assist the people.

“The situation was pathetic and it is unfathomable that government institutions have not moved in to assist the people who are suffering from the inhuman action taken by the cane company,” said Jane Makina acting Executive Director of the Programme.

There is still tension around the land which the company has now started cultivating and there is a ten-man strong police team that is now guarding activities as well as the place for 24 hours.

However, the displaced villagers attacked the place on Tuesday and burnt some sugarcane in a desperate attempt to force the company out of the land.