Friday, 18 July 2014

When a Mother Is Battered For Seeking to Cultivate Family Land

In 1998, Uganda enacted a Land Act, which was supposed to address historical gender imbalances in land ownership and usher in a new era of women's rights, although the act recognized women’s rights to land, the act did not provide for co-ownership of family property by spouses. Even though such statutory law does not bar women from owning property, the reality within which they live effectively denies them this. The many socio-cultural practices that discriminate against women particularly the widowed and divorced, coupled with certain customary practices, like the giving of bride wealth and polygamy reduce women's security on land. Many women in Uganda today continue to be defenseless victims of illegal evictions from customary land in the face of customary law which is still strictly observed in many parts of the country. The law on cohabiting couples has also not been well spelt, and or understood by many leaving several cohabiting women defenseless and vulnerable to rights abuses;
One Justine Pitho cohabiting with Mr. Amura Orach in Kyantamba village, Dwaniro sub-county –Kiboga district, was living happily with her husband until she requested to use part of the family land for commercial farming. Justine also suggested renting out a small fraction of the land to raise more income to support their children. Suspicious of Justine’s intentions, Amura rejected Justine’s request. He argued that Justine was only disregarding his authority as a family head and was also plotting to sell off his land. No amount of talking would get Amura to believe Justine, they argued and disagreed about the issue so much so that Amura pounced on Justine and beat her seriously. Amura also asked Justine to leave his home immediately, calling her a witch who had brought misfortune to the family. He accused her of the late brother’s death saying it was part of her plan to kill his family members and then take up the land.
Justine shared her situation with a friend who showed her to a community based paralegal, Afisa Namammonde working with Uganda Community Based Association for Child Welfare (UCOBAC). UCOBAC is an IDF grantee implementing a women's land and property rights project in Kiboga district. This project focuses at empowering women, their families and communities through increasing their ability to exercise their land and property rights.
Afisa talked to Amura about the wife’s situation and how her request/suggestions were not bad afterall but he wouldn’t listen. He instead incited the whole clan against Justine. Afisa then engaged the local Council I and III Chairpersons, the Police, Probation Office and the Chairperson of the area land committee. They advised that a meeting be held with the troubled couple to help them resolve their differences.  From the discussions held, it was agreed that Justine would be allowed to till the land since this was beneficial to the family; however renting would be put on hold since she was not legally married to Amura neither was she a co-owner on the land in question. The couple was further counseled on marriage, educated on land/property rights and domestic violence and the effects these conflicts would have on their children. A letter from the district Probation Office was issued to affirm what had been agreed on, and today, Justine is happily cultivating the family land.

Whereas the law and some cultural practices/systems aren’t providing outright justice to women whose rights have been violated, there can still be ways of ensuring that the victims access redress of their plight. Through IDF’s support, these redress mechanisms are being seen to function and enable women enjoy their entitlements and live full lives like other people in the society. Disrespect, discrimination, and abuse of women is being seen to decrease where specific interventions have been directed towards this cause of promoting and protecting women rights.