By Christabel Ligami

Integrating women’s land rights into the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) represents a significant opportunity to advance gender equality, empower women economically, and drive sustainable development in Africa.

This is according to leaders and land experts attending the ongoing Fifth Conference on Land Policy in Africa (CLPA) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, November 21 – 24, 2023.

The experts say by addressing the unique challenges faced by women in accessing and owning land, the AfCFTA can create an enabling environment for women entrepreneurs, facilitate their participation in cross-border trade, and contribute to poverty reduction and inclusive growth.

CLPA is organized by the tripartite consortium consisting of the African Union Commission (AUC), the African Development Bank (AfDB) and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) under the theme, ‘Year of AfCFTA: Acceleration of the African Continental Free Trade Area Implementation.’

Judith Nabakooba, Uganda’s  Minister of Lands, Housing and Urban Development said there is a need for Africa to have good land governance policies that strengthen women‘s rights to land to achieve fair and sustainable outcomes for all.

National legal frameworks should be strengthened, aligned with international human rights standards, and effectively enforced to protect women’s land rights. This requires addressing discriminatory laws and practices, raising awareness of women’s land rights, and providing legal aid and support services to women facing land-related disputes.

The Ugandan minister said collaboration among governments, civil society organizations, women’s rights groups, and private sector entities is crucial for successfully integrating women’s land rights into the AfCFTA. Partnerships should be forged to develop gender-responsive trade policies, provide technical support, and implement capacity-building programs.

Josefa Sacko, Commissioner for Agriculture, Rural Development, Blue Economy and Sustainable Environment noted that there have been significant strides since the last CLPA in advancing land policies across the African Union Member States.

“Two years ago, we convened to address the challenges impeding sustainable land governance, and I am pleased to report that there has been a noticeable momentum in the implementation of policies aimed at fostering sustainable land administration practices,” said Ms Sacko.

“One significant area of progress pertains to the advancement of women’s land rights, in alignment with the African Union’s agenda on land. Through targeted policy interventions, legal reforms, and awareness campaigns, we have witnessed tangible progress in elevating the status of women as key stakeholders in land governance.”

“It is imperative that stakeholders work together to ensure that women’s land rights are fully integrated into the AfCFTA’s policies, programs, and implementation mechanisms,” said Robert Lisinge, Chief of the Energy, Infrastructure and Services Section of the Private Sector Development and Finance Division

“This will not only benefit women and contribute to the overall success and sustainability of the AfCFTA but also accelerate Africa’s development agenda.”

He said that sound land governance systems are essential to facilitating youth, women, communities, and the private sector to engage and benefit from AfCFTA and digitalization.

Dr. Sandra Bhatasara, a lecturer in the Department of Sociology, University of Zimbabwe said women’s ability to access land through inheritance in Africa is compromised. In practice. Women experience constant threats from clansmen and relatives of their husbands.

“Enforcement and protection of women’s land and property rights are limited with regards to inheritance-laws which confer title and inheritance rights on male family members while relegating women, especially married women, to secondary access through their husbands or male children,” said Dr. Bhatasara.

For example, she said, in Lamu, a coastal town in Kenya, the largely Muslim community believes that men are the core custodians of land even though the constitution guarantees equitable access to land for all. In Cameroon, Ethiopia, South Africa, and Togo, the state has not yet provided national policy guidance on Large Scale Land-Based Investment (LSLBI). This leaves women exposed to the dispossession of their lands.

She said that efforts should be made to mainstream gender considerations across all aspects of the AfCFTA implementation. This includes ensuring gender balance in trade negotiations, establishing gender-responsive monitoring and evaluation mechanisms, and conducting gender impact assessments of trade policies to identify potential risks and opportunities for women.

Africa’s Agenda 2063 calls for the government to fully empower women in all spheres, with equal social, political and economic rights, including the rights to own and inherit property, sign contracts, and register and manage businesses

In 2016, the AU launched a campaign to allocate 30 percent of land to African Women by 2025 for Africa’s economic transformation.