Two years of women’s rights advocacy: assessing opportunities and threats

“Land plays a central role in the livelihoods of many Ghanaians. It is estimated that nearly two-thirds of the population make their living off the land as smallholder farmers, and agriculture remain an important contributor to the nation’s gross domestic product.

“Studies have suggested that these large-scale land acquisitions have deepened land-hunger, and dispossessions adversely affected the livelihoods of local communities and their members, and are deepening gender and class inequalities in access to land and land governance systems (Tsikata and Yaro, 2013). Women’s access, control, and ownership of land are critical factors in addressing gender inequalities in the land sector.”

As a result of the traditions and socialisation processes in many parts of the country, especially Northern Ghana, women are left out in terms of owning land and having control of it.  It is a commonly held belief in most parts of the North, among others, that females (women) are likely to be married-off to live with their husbands – hence, families refrain from willing lands as an inheritance to them.

However, contrary to this belief, married women are also seen as ‘strangers’ to inherit land from their dead husbands, if they own any, according to Mr. Usif. This, he intimated, has been an age-long practice until recent times.

Although this tradition has not been abolished, more women are now being given the opportunity to have some tenure of security with the lands, either rented or allocated to them, in some communities.

One of such communities is Lahagu. It is a community in the Nanton Traditional Area, which is under the Tamale Metropolitan Assembly. After several months of engagement and sensitisation of the people, a four-acre plot of land has been set aside for farming by women.

Mr. Usif explains that livelihood is closely tied to land, which makes it a very ‘hot commodity’ to possess now, especially in the urban areas. But with female-headed households increasing, traditional authorities and some families have now agreed to allocate farmlands for women so that they can have some security of tenure for farming on the land – except if there is a pressing need of the land for a communal project. Even in such circumstances, the women farm-owners will be duly compensated.

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Mr. Usif Wuntuma Osman is the Programmes Officer of the Grassroot Sisterhood Foundation (GSF), a Tamale-based non-governmental organisation (NGO) that envisages “a free and fair society where women and girls, the poor and vulnerable, claim their rights on equal terms and participate at all levels toward the development of their communities”.

He said as a beneficiary of the advocacy training by the Network for Women’s Rights in Ghana (NETRIGHT), their knowledge and skills were deepened to engage and sensitise chiefs, opinion leaders and communities as part of the GSF objectives.

He remarked during an evaluation exercise of NETRIGHT, as part of activities under its 30-month project titled ‘Addressing Systemic Barriers to enhance Gender Equality and Social Inclusion in Land Governance’, that the feat achieved could not have been possible without the engagement of NETRIGHT.

Nana Kwabena Yeboah Ababio, Regional Stool Lands Officer-Central Region, similarly said as a result of NETRIGHT’s engagement over the last two years in the region, a lot of people now prefer to resolve land conflicts by engaging officials from the Office of the Administrator of Stool Lands instead of resorting to the law courts to settle such disputes, as used to be the case.

He said the work of NETRIGHT over the period has helped to bring Gender Equality and Social Inclusion (GESI) issues to the forefront and doorsteps of the common people. “This kind of awareness has also helped for legal practitioners and land management practitioners to also identify the kind of strategy they can also promote to ensure the equality and inclusion envisaged.”

In effect, he said, NETRIGHT has been able to provide people with opportunities to gain the knowledge and skills needed to empower themselves. He said what needs to be done now is work toward sustaining this action at every level, thus deepening the people’s consciousness in order to ‘confront’ negative tendencies.

These are just a few examples of the success shared by stakeholders who have been impacted by NETRIGHT’s advocacy work over the last 24-months across the country.

NETRIGHT, in partnership with its regional focal points and LAWA (Ghana), is implementing a 30-month project under the title ‘Addressing Systemic Barriers to Enhance Gender Equality and Social Inclusion in Land Governance’.

The project is intended to mobilise support for the passage of a GESI responsive Land bill, and also contribute to evidence-based advocacy for gender and social inclusion reforms in the land sector to protect livelihoods of rural women farmers. It is sponsored by STAR Ghana Foundation, with funding from UK-aid, the European Union, and DANIDA.

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The Programme Manager of NETRIGHT, Mrs. Patricia Blankson Akakpo, said about 95 percent of the project’s objectives have been realised, with only six months left.

In reference to the capacity building of women’s rights organisations and Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) working on land issues, she noted that “a study was carried out in the land sector to look at the Gender, Equality and Social Inclusion (GESI) issues”.

She said simplification of the Land bill to develop a manual helped to achieve this objective. For instance, there was a training of trainers course on how people should use the manual developed so they could create awareness on the Land bill.

Mrs. Blankson Akakpo added: “In regard to creating awareness on the Land bill among smallholders’ farmers and other key stakeholders, this has been done”.

“We have six more months to wrap-up, but when you look at the impact and the fact that organisations which were engaged in the project during the 24-months are also going back to sensitise their constituents, it tells you that a lot has been achieved within the period,” she stated.

Notwithstanding these opportunities, she noted, the Land bill – which was withdrawn from Parliament, despite the assurances of being laid before the House by June 2019 – is a key concern.

She said if the Land bill is not submitted to Parliament before end of the year, the chances of it being passed in the year ahead are minimal.

“This will mean that the advocacy work to ensure it is GESI-responsive will have to be repeated all over again,” she noted worriedly.

Another issue of concern, she said, is the prevalent traditional norms and practices which militate against women and socially marginalised groups; but with what has been achieved in the northern part of the country, she is hopeful that they will be addressed gradually.

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