Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Radio Talk Show on Women's Rights to Land and Property Restores Hope to a Widow in Lira District.

Over 80% of the land in Uganda is held under customary tenure and is regulated by customary law or the local custom. In this framework, land is passed on to children through inheritance and managed by the family unit; traditionally through the male line from father to son. This patrilineal tradition remains especially dominant in the rural areas of Uganda, and is characterized by male control of decision-making about who will inherit and manage the land. Usually the land management responsibility is passed on to members of the family through the actualization of events such as marriage (for boys), divorce (for wives who return to their homes), death of husband (for widows), death of fathers (for heirs), or death of brothers (for uncles managing the land of orphans).  Although the same custom acknowledges that everyone who is born married into or accepted as a member of a family has automatic land rights whether male or female, preference for male over female heirs is dominant.

In most parts of the lango sub region, land is passed from father to sons. A woman’s right to land is guaranteed through her husband. If he dies, her children inherit this land, but her rights as a widow are protected through her own children, and through her late brother’s family. Traditionally, in Lira District, one of her late husband’s brothers would provide a more formal protection role for her place within the clan by giving her the status of his wife; however, this practice is slowly dying out because of the fear of spreading HIV/AIDS. Because the family’s land was customarily administered through the clan system (giving rise to a widespread misconception that all land is owned by the clan), it was the clan which protected the rights of orphans. Clan elders ensured that friends and family heads in-charge of orphans looked after them rather than exploiting them. 

Unfortunately for Lucy Amot of Abed ber village this was not the case. Following the death of her husband in 2002, the good relationship Amot’s family had with their neighbour Okello Cyprino ended when he resorted to grabbing her land instead of protecting her. In-spite of the deceased’s will stipulating that his land be given to the wife- Amot, Okello Cyprino was determined to grab it from the poor widow. Cyprino reported the case to Lira Court (case no. 30 of 2007) and Amot was summoned to appear; only to be surprised at the judgement which was in favour of Okello Cyprino. Lucy was later kicked out of her land.
While listening to a radio talk show by an IDF grantee Guu Foundation Community Based Rehabilitation (GUFO) on Voice of Lango FM about women rights to land and property, Amot felt a rush of relief flowing through her. She couldn’t imagine there was still hope for her to reclaim her land. Amot later shared her ordeal with GUFO’s reflect volunteer in Ogur Sub County. GUFO helped Amot to find a lawyer who submitted an appeal for review of the case. Court sitting on 17th January 2014 heard the case and ruled in Amot’s favour.

Okello was defeated and forced to give Amot’s land back. Since then, Amot has become an advocate for women rights to land and property in Ogur Sub County. She is now processing a Certificate of Customary ownership. Her story and advocacy work have changed the lives of many women in Lira. Amot sharing her experience with other women during a meeting organized by GUFO.
With continued support to Civil Society strategies that address women rights to land, IDF is certain to contribute to enhancing access to redress mechanisms leading to consequent realization and enjoyment of women rights by women in Uganda.