Women must take centre stage in the land debate

Ideas

Women must take centre stage in the land debate

The dream of breaking the cycle of poverty will be cut short if they continue having limited decision-making power and control over land

Mercia Andrews

With the government shifting its policy around the expropriation of land, women cannot afford to sit on the sidelines as new laws and strategies around land are devised.
Women are an integral part of agricultural production and food security in our country and we need to seize this moment to ensure meaningful change. 
In South Africa, women are 43% of the agricultural labour force. They are close to half of the workers on farms, in cellars, abattoirs, processing factories or markets. When it comes to small-scale farming, 69% of these farmers are women. They are the ones who complement the local market of food production in our communities. 
Women play key roles as producers of food, managers of natural resources, income earners, and main caregivers of their families and communities.A reality of the South African countryside is that female-headed households feature prominently as rural men historically migrate due to the lack of employment and other income-generating opportunities.
This trend persists, and herein lies the initial tier of hope that the radical amendment to the property clause may portend: hope for the future of the household. A new dream to break the cycle of poverty for the daughters and sons in our impoverished rural communities through provision of land to ensure shelter and food security.
But for many mothers and daughters this dream will be cut short if they continue having limited decision-making power and control over land.
As it is now, women rarely own the land they are working on, or have poor tenure security and rights to the land. Nevertheless, women are producing food on very small parcels of land and contributing to household food security. 
Our constitution grants equal access to land but this is often overshadowed by customary legal arrangements or laws on marriage, divorce and inheritance which often discriminate against women and daughters, preventing them from owning land.We need to urgently challenge these laws and challenge the patriarchy that underpins it. 
Gender-based discrimination can also curb rural women from equitable access to education, productive resources, technologies and capital, as well as support services, thus undermining ways in which they can most efficiently work the land. Women in farming communities need to be prioritised in any land restitution programme.Land reform and land distribution in South Africa has been extremely slow. Moreover, many of the farms handed to rural beneficiaries have not succeeded because the government has failed to provide support.
For land expropriation without compensation to succeed and bring about change, women will require land with water along with financial, technical and extension support.
Agriculture in black rural areas requires investment for the development of small-scale producers. 
Now is most certainly the time for women to take centre stage in shaping not only the debate, but also the strategies and policies that will flow from the new imaginings around land redistribution stemming from last month's parliamentary vote.
Mercia Andrews is director of the Trust for Community Outreach and Education.

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