The Jostle for Earth’s Most Precious Resource
Land is one of the most fiercely contested resources in the world over. And Nigeria isn’t any different. This resource has constantly been a cause for dispute and conflicts nationwide. Lands are a source of livelihood, survival and wealth creation, hence the constant need to acquire and possess. At the community level, it is a source of socioeconomic empowerment and carries some form of identity and symbolic association with family lineage.
In the South West, we often see disputes between land grabbers, communities, and supposed private individuals who have purchased these properties. Up North and the southeast, there are clashes between farmers and herders who compete for the earth’s resources to fuel their livelihood. But beyond the farmer-herder clash in the southeast, there is also the challenge of erosion, which further exacerbates land scarcity and reduces arable land.
Gender Imbalance and Disparity
However, more pressing is the effect of cultural norms and practices, which places women at a disadvantage when it comes to land usage and ownership. Disinheritance of landed properties is one of the most prevalent forms of gender-based violence (GBV) in the southeast and has affected many widows across the region. The inability of women to access these landed properties due to cultural norms in a patriarchal society has led to abuse, trauma, and impoverishment.
Women in rural areas in Southeast Nigeria, who comprise over 67 percent of the region’s labor for subsistence and commercial agriculture, depend on the indigenous lands to sustain their livelihood, despite owning only about 10 percent of the land. This shows a huge gender imbalance and disparity in land ownership in the southeast.
Research from USAID shows that gendered power imbalances affect women’s ability to access, use, control and benefit from land. This reality limits women’s economic empowerment and perpetuates poverty. For rural communities, discrimination can be even more pronounced, meaning they have even fewer rights and less access to land than their male counterparts.
Ignorance of the Law, a Punishment for Rural Women
Nigeria has legal mechanisms in place to protect the rights of these women, like the Nigerian Marriage Act and the Nigerian Administration of Estate Act, which guarantee women’s access to land resources. However, women in rural communities are unaware of these laws and how they protect them. A typical case of being in the midst of plenty and still dying of hunger.
“Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance….” – Martin Luther King Jr.
Their absence from decision-making spaces like the traditional ruling councils where land disputes are first adjudicated and the absence of land activists to advocate for their rights limits access to these resources.
Understanding how these factors affect women in rural communities, South Saharan Social Development Organization, SSDO, is raising awareness about women’s rights to own landed properties and helping them seek redress on land grabbing through the Sister Guardian Initiative in communities across the southeast. The Sister Guardian Initiative (SGI) is SSDO’s flagship on reducing violence against women at the community level. The SSDO-funded project institutes community-based women groups -SGI Chapters, to advocate against GBV and provide immediate survivor-centered support to survivors through counselling, temporary shelters, and referrals.
The program also builds the capacity of law enforcement and health officials to respond to GBV cases according to international best practices; and support traditional leaders to institutionalize by-laws against GBV. It is currently being implemented in 19 communities in Enugu and Anambra states.
The Sister Guardian Initiative is playing its part in changing the narrative, one community at a time. So far, the SGI has supported over 3,000 women, ensured the inclusion of women in the traditional ruling council of six communities and successfully introduced by-laws criminalizing GBV in four communities.
Helping Alice Recover Her Land
The SGI chapter in Ihenyi community, Isi-Uzo LGA, Enugu, recently helped a widow, Ogbuebor Alice, reclaim her land after much tussle with her husband’s brother. The Gender Protection Lead for SSDO, Blessing Uchendu, spoke about the intervention by the SGI. Blessing recalled, “The land tussle started over thirty years ago when Alice’s husband passed on and her kids were still little. Her husband’s brother laid claim over the piece of land as the rightful owner as opposed to the norm, which was supposed to be Alice’s kids.”
This struggle continued, and the uncle resurfaced three years ago. But by this time, Alice was aware of the existence of the SGI chapter in Ihenyi community. She reported the case, and the group mediated. Only for the uncle to return this year and dispose them off the land.
“The case was reported to me that Alice’s husband’s brother was back making an ownership claim of the parcel of land. The SGI intervened again but, this time, swiftly moved the case to the Igwe’s cabinet for further adjudication. Members of the Igwe’s cabinet then divided the land equally among both parties, but he still went back on the decision and took the land for himself.”
Ogbuebor Emeka, Alice’s younger son, shares more insight. “In the scuffle for the land, he arrested me and put me behind bars for three days until my family met the bail conditions. He threatened us never to set foot on the land again.”
Blessing Uchendu confirmed that after many threats, the case was charged to the court. “On the first hearing, Alice’s husband’s brother didn’t show up, and the case was adjourned. On the second hearing, he still didn’t show up, and the court dismissed the case.”
Alice and her family can now resume farming activities to guarantee their livelihood courtesy of the SGI intervention. Many women still suffer from discriminatory norms, ignorance of their rights, as well as from power imbalances in the community. SSDO is ever committed to reducing gender imbalances and power disparities as it concerns land tenure and ownership.