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Source: AllAfrica

Land empowerment to women is cardinal in the acceleration of development at community and national level.

The picture may not look so encouraging in Zambia with regards to women making strides in accessing land.

And even the very few women who have access to land are utilising it to full capacity.

One such woman is 27-year old graduate Tamara Kaunda who is a shining example of women in leadership who can inspire others.

Dr Kaunda has a 26 hectare piece of land in Silverest area on the outskirts of Lusaka where she cultivates tomatoes and vegetables.

The young leader has employed eight youths in the name of empowering them at the farm in tomato production.

Dr Kaunda said farmers who buy seed from her company are also guided by a team of experts on how well to grow their crops by being involved in agriculture.

She noted that agriculture was lucrative and comes with huge profits that people could never think of until they tried it.

Dr Kaunda said if given an opportunity of accessing and own land, women can do more, just like men do, when they are empowered with land.

It is through such people who truly show that women can be a great asset when empowered with land.

Women entitlement to land and other natural resources is weakened by their perceived status of being inferior in their respective households and communities.

This perception is reinforced by discriminatory customary and statutory laws.

According to the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA), women's access to land and property for instance is central to women's economic empowerment, as land can serve as a base for food production and income generation

Despite land ownership being the most important resource for a majority rural women, most of them were restricted in terms of their access to ownership of and control over land, and the income produced from it, which makes them avoid leadership roles.

Being a patriarchal society, local women face many challenges related to land rights.

This has made it very difficult for women to independently make their activities financially, notably in land ownership.

As a woman traditional leader, Chieftainess Mkanda of the Chewa speaking people in Chipata District said access to land in her chiefdom was monopolized by men but.

But now that women were given a priority so that even in instances of their spouses dying, they could be able to be leaders at family level.

Chieftainess Mkanda said women were being encouraged to own land so that they were even ready to be leaders at various levels.

The traditional leaders said everybody was entiltled to own land in her chiefdom and that women were a priority because of their critical leadership role in families.

She said most women were empowered with land and unlike the olden days, this had made them to be brave and lead others through the different sensitizations on what they could do if there were empowered with land.

According to the Gender Status Report 2012-2014 by the Ministry of Gender, land offers were at 2,682 for men compared to 883 for women.

It further said there was a decrease in the number of women owning land from 25.1 per cent in 2011 to 23.8 per cent in 2012 and an increase in 2013 with 24.1 per cent.

This means that access to customary land traditionally favours men and only a few women have had access to customary land.

The situation is worsened by under-representation of women in leadership and a high level of ignorance among the local population.

One solution to this difficult situation is to strengthen the position of women in their communities and entrench their position in leadership through ensuring their equal access to rights, ownership and decision making.

Women are regarded as drivers of sustainable development.

If empowered with land, their leadership role could lead to some positivity in areas they operate from.

Despite women's critical leadership role and contribution to agriculture, rural development, and food security are disadvantaged.

Growing commercial pressures on land increase dependency on subsistence agriculture and further undermine women's land rights.

According to Food Agriculture Organisation (FAO)'s 2011 State of Food and Agriculture Report (SOFA), evidence of gender inequalities in access to land is overwhelming.

Social norms discriminate against women, with customary practices restricting women's ability to own or operate land.

During the official opening of Lusaka Presbytery Women's Christian Fellowship Council (WFC) annual conference for the United Church of Zambia (UCZ) in Kafue District recently, Vice President Inonge Wina observed that lack of land has remained one of the major obstacles to women empowerment in the country.

Ms Wina said Government was working on addressing challenges and was hopeful of positive policies to come out of dialogue.

She said lack of titled land for most women has remained a hindrance from accessing housing finance.

Ms Wina urged all relevant authorities to ensure that the policy decision to allocate 30 percent of both State and Traditional Land to women, which has not been adhered to, is implemented.

"I am, therefore, urging all relevant government departments responsible for land alienation to ensure that these processes are made easier for people," Ms Wina said.

The Vice-President said there was need to stop the culture of councillors and party cadres sharing land among themselves as it is supposed to be equally distributed among all Zambians.

The Zambia 1995 Lands Act is gender-neutral and provides for everyone to have the ability to convert customary land into leasehold.

Petronnela Shiaka of Lusaka said currently, it was not easy for women in leadership both in rural and urban areas to access land because ownership of land was still male-dominated.

"Even when you go to the Ministry of Lands, you will find that 90 per cent of those who own land are men compared to their female counterparts" she said.

Shiaka explained that although the 2000 National Gender Policy provides that 30 percent of l and available for State distribution be allocated to women, and the remaining 70 percent allocated fairly between men and women because few women in leadership have access to land at present.

"In some instances some officers tell each other about some available land in Lusaka but when I for instance go to seek for land, they will say there is no available land in Lusaka," she disclosed adding, "it was difficult to access land in an area where there was business but they would rather give you land in an area where they know there was no business opportunity."

She thought women should stand up and fight for their rights to own and access land as there was already legal documentation that states that a particular percentage of land should be given to women.

Lands Minister Jean Kapata ordered councils to give 50 per cent of land to women in a bid to drive inclusive development.

"This means that if a council advertises 1, 000 plots, 500 of those should be given to women. And we will be counter-checking to ensure compliance with the directive," she said.

Ms Kapata said she would ensure that barriers to accessing land by women were eliminated to enable the female folk fully own the natural resource.

On HIV, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has noted that women's rights to inheritance of property are a crucial factor in reducing women's vulnerability to violence and discrimination.

While women's land and property rights are vital to development, the reality remains that in many parts of the world these rights are often not shared equally between men and women.

Obstacles which prevent women leaders from effectively enjoying these rights equally with men are complex, and at times context specific.

They range from inadequate legal standards and implementation of laws, to discriminatory social norms, attitudes, and programmes at national, regional and local levels which taken together result in wide discrepancies in practice between development outcomes for men and women.

However, practical examples are there to show that given an opportunity to access land, women are able to utilize it to their full potential.

And on environmental sustainability, women's farming practices are typically less likely to contribute to environmental degradation and natural resource loss.

Without basic recognition of women's capacity and right to make fundamental decisions about their lives, women will remain relegated to the sidelines of society.

For women leaders to become active and valued participants in the lives of their communities, every woman's right to land and property must be respected, protected, fulfilled and enforced - and this must be done on the basis of equality with men.

The gains to be made would lift up women in leadership, first and foremost, as well as entire families, communities and societies would uplift their standard of living.

Women leadership should also secure rights to land and improve ability to diversify livelihood, better plan for the future, escape the cycle of poverty that leads to social exclusion.

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