Zimbabwe land reform leaves women farmers far behind

Tania Ghosh – WNN Features

Zimbabwe woman farmer with child
Zimbabwe woman farmer in the fields with sleeping child on back. Image: Milton Grant/UN, 1991

Zimbabwean women are denied access to land under African the government’s land reform programme, a new report has found. According to the report, women make up 51 per cent of the population and yet there has been little mention of women, if at all, during the two phases of the land reform programme. The report argues that unequal power and gender relations in institutions such as the village have prevented women from accessing land.

“According to the government, land redistribution has been completed and yet most women failed to get access to land,” writes the author, Dr Dominic Pasura, a research fellow at the department of geography at the University College of London, UK.

Zimbabwe’s Land reform and Resettlement programme (LRRP) was introduced to “improve the welfare of the poor and landless” by Robert Mugabe’s post-colonial government in the 1980s.

Dr Pasura writes: “At independence, Zimbabwe inherited a racially skewed distribution of land that excluded most black Africans from access to land.”

According to the 2001 study by Annelet Hart-Broekhuis and Henk Huisman, 6,000 white large-scale commercial farmers controlled about 15.5 million hectares, and 840,000 communal area farmers controlled 16.4 million hectares at the time of independence in 1980. LRRP Phase I ran from 1980 to 1997 and resulted in modest transfers, the study reported. However, Phase II began in 1998 and saw a more radical approach.

During the first phase of the land reform programme, the study reports there was a bias towards men in the resettlement model. This is because “land was given to individual households, which tended to mean male households”, the report found. The second phase of LRRP saw an intensification of land redistribution. “War veterans, squatters, ruling party militants and state officials” were the main beneficiaries of the second phase of the LRRP programme, the study reported. Women were again missing from the programme.

Women lobbied for land rights

However, women’s groups in Zimbabwe have been vocal about this issue. The Women and Land Lobbying group had limited success in lobbying the government, the study reported. According to the report, “President Mugabe announced in October 2000 that female-headed households would receive 20 per cent of redistributed land”. However, this did not include married women, the study reported.

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