Credit: DFID, UK Department for International Development.
January 2011 -- Through a century of colonialism, during which men in many rural areas left their villages in search of employment, women were the primary food producers for their families. During 17 years of civil war and the emergence of the deadly HIV/AIDS epidemic, more women lost their husbands, and became the heads of households and managers of their assets, including land. After peace was declared in 1992, people displaced from their villages began returning home, and one-third of returning families were headed by women.
Today, Mozambique’s Constitution and laws, which call for gender equality and prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex, have established a legal foundation for women’s land rights. They have also opened new channels for women to participate in community land management.
Mozambique’s Land Law (1997) recognized women as co-title holders of community-held land. The law calls for the election of community representative bodies—which must include women—to oversee and manage land. The law also established a participatory process for identifying and recording community land boundaries. This process gives women opportunities to articulate their interests in land, learn about land rights, and assume leadership roles.
However, despite this progressive legal framework, rural women are rarely able to exercise their rights due to a lack of knowledge of those rights and an inability, for financial and cultural reasons, to access the formal court system in order to defend their rights. Therefore, although Mozambique’s rural women have long been the primary producers of food for their families, many continue to have their land rights restricted by customary law and practices.
Many traditional practices and customary laws continue to give men primary rights over land and favor male inheritance. Men often control any surplus production and income earned from the land. In addition, women’s access to land has become increasingly insecure, as young widows of the HIV/AIDS pandemic are vulnerable to eviction from their marital homes by relatives claiming the same land, and increasing land values have intensified competition for land.
Despite these challenges, Mozambique’s legal framework sets the stage for advancing gender equitable rights to land and natural resources. Making these rights real will mean acquainting all community members with the knowledge and tools they need to uphold the rights of women; ensuring that women have affordable access to redress and the ability to help reshape discriminatory customary practices.