How poor funding is crippling women’s fight for land rights

Land activists and other leaders attend a regional multi-stakeholder budget advocacy dialogue in Lira City on February 27, 2024. PHOTO BY BILL OKETCH

What you need to know:

  • Ritah Kemigisa, the Stand for Her Land Campaign Communications Associate in Uganda, decried challenges faced by her gender due to a dual legal system that blends formal and cultural laws.

The government has been called upon to consider increasing funding to the land sector to support women’s access to land rights. 
Land activists say poor funding to the land sector remains a big hindrance to vulnerable groups, including women, in attaining land rights. This, notwithstanding, the activists say women provide 70 percent of the labour force in the agricultural sector. 

In the current Financial Year 2023/2024, the allocation for natural resources, environment, climate change, land, and water programmes saw a significant reduction from Shs635.1billion to Shs417.6 billion. This marks a staggering Shs217.5b budget cut, representing a 34.2 percent decrease. 
But the budget call circular for the FY 2024/2025, reveals a promising shift, with the budget for the programme to be increased from Shs417.6b in the FY2023/2024 to Shs1.089 trillion in the FY 2024/2025. This represents more than 260 percent budget expansion for the programme. 
But Ms Rebecca Apio, the executive director of Land Justice Network, says, “The land administration institutions remain weak and vulnerable to provide the required safeguards to protect women’s land rights.” 
She was addressing a regional multi-stakeholder budget advocacy dialogue in Lira City last week. 

Ms Patience Atuhaire, the Registrar of Titles at the Lira Zonal Office, says finances are limiting them from advancing women’s land rights. 
“We do not have a budget line for outreaches. We have projects on customary land but our outreach is limited until the titles are done,’’ she said. 
Ms Ritah Kemigisa, the communications associate for Stand for Her Land Campaign in Uganda, says women face challenges in accessing land justice because of the dual legal system that blends formal and cultural laws. 
“Whereas a lot has been achieved in defining the bounds of women’s land and property rights, there are gaps in equally progressive laws on marriage, divorce, and registration of land in the country,” she said. 

Govt efforts
The Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development has since launched a countrywide land registration initiative to ensure customary landowners are given certificates of customary ownership to prove land ownership. Under this process, couples are encouraged to jointly register their land. 
Mr Richard Cox Okello Orik, the Lira chairperson, urged men to embrace joint registration of land.  
“I have got three pieces of land I bought, but when it comes to registration, I do it together with my wife because she is my friend,” he says. 

But Mr Tom Odur Anang, a cultural leader and former Kwania County MP, says for a married woman, her access to land is built on a good relationship with her spouse. 
“When you get married, you probably don’t have the right [to own] land yet. But as you grow in that relationship, you start becoming very close to each other. Automatically, you will have rights to own that family land,” he says. 
Although Uganda does not have any laws that prohibit women from accessing or owning land, the state’s institutional structures struggle to enforce their pro-gender policies and regulations. 
Traditional gender roles, patriarchal practices, economic inequalities, inefficient land registry, and lack of accountability in the land sector, are some of the obstacles that still block women’s advancement in the country. 

Patriarchal practices
Mr Ronny Olao, the Lira District gender officer, admits that patriarchal practices affect the country’s pro-gender policies. 
“There are no allocated resources specifically meant to address the issues of women’s rights to land,” he says. 
Ms Stella Rose Akutui, LANDnet Uganda’s capacity building and networking officer, says there is a need to build the capacity of women on land rights. 
“There are violations of land rights in our communities but how do we empower these women or those men deep down in the villages to be able to be assertive,” she asks. 

Ms Akutui says, “If your land is grabbed and you don’t know anything, you don’t know any procedure, and you don’t know any office, how do you even start? Do you stand any chance to gain justice? The answer is No,” 
She says LANDnet has identified members of the community called champions whom they have empowered to address issues of land rights. 
“Champions are like ambassadors, she says. In case anyone has an issue in their community, they can run to that person, who has been trained in land laws,” Ms Akutui says. 
Ms Gloria Lanyero, a champion from Gulu District, says though educated, she did not know about land rights.

 Ms Janet Abeja’s husband Moses Guna, with whom they had six children, decided to abandon his family six years ago. He then attempted to sell their piece of land measuring about 16x37x20x32 metres in Lira City, leaving the woman and her children vulnerable to eviction. 
In 2021, Mr Guna resurfaced; this time, not to reunite with the family, but to tear it apart.      

     The woman said her husband sent the area village local council chairman with a letter to inform her that the developed family land had been sold off. The purported buyer was his mother, Ms Beatrice Amongi. 
      Mr Daniel Omara Atubo, the former Lands minister, also the Otengoro Olang clan chief, says when the woman refused to vacate the family matrimony home, Ms Abeja’s brother-in-law, Charles Ogwal Amute, filed a civil suit at the Magistrate’s Court in Lira against his brother. 

     Mr Ogwal Amute accused Mr Guna of selling the land plus three houses on it to their mother and refusing to vacate the property. 
     Daily Monitor has established that Mr Guna did not file any defence nor did he attend any of the court proceedings. The court then passed a judgment in his absence and the woman and her six children were ordered to vacate the contested land. 

     On May 31, 2022, court bailiffs raided the home at Angwetangwet A Cell, Boke Ward in Lira City East Division, and threw out all the occupants and their household possessions. During the eviction, the court agents also destroyed the windows and doors. After the court agents locked the main house and disappeared, members of the community broke the padlocks and forced the children and their mother back into the house.  To date, the woman, who is a prison warder at Lira Prisons, is staying at the disputed home with her children. 

     Ms Abeja’s story is a testament to the struggles women face in attaining land justice. Land rights activists suggest that one way to give women guaranteed land tenure security is land registration and titling.