As the country marks 56 years of independence, there is little to celebrate on the steps taken by the government to protect women land rights.
Land access is still a privilege to most women in rural areas. The quest for gender equality on land access and ownership brought forth several reforms.
The big win was the 2010 Constitution that was a game-changer on matters gender equality and non-discrimination on land rights.
The outcome of the Constitution has been the emergence of several groups on women land rights awareness and advocacy. There is no doubt that today more women are aware about their land rights than before.
Despite the reforms and awareness, the vulnerability of rural women to discrimination and violence while exercising their land rights is still significant. Major land disputes facing rural women are inheritance-related, with widows and daughters locked out of succession processes in total disregard of the law.
Cases of widows being chased away from their “husbands’ land” are still rampant. Land inheritance by women still largely depends on the goodwill of male relatives and the small share given is still subject to conditions.
There are good laws to curb this discrimination and inequality, starting with the Constitution, Law of Succession Act and other statutes, all having provisions that protect women against discrimination.
Apart from the laws, we have institutions mandated to protect and enhance implementation of land rights. They include the Lands ministry, the National Land Commission, the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR) and the National Gender Equality Commission.
With the above laws and institutions, one wonders why discrimination of women land rights is still rife at the grassroots. Lack of implementation and enforcement is the main reason these rights are not picking up as expected. Many women who have raised complaints or even gone to court can attest to this. Even with court orders, access to land still remains an unending battle.
Government institutions should undertake bold steps to ensure women’s land rights are realised.There is need to have a well-structured dispute handling mechanisms for complaints raised by women.
The Lands ministry and the National Land Commission (NLC) should consider setting up a full-fledged women’s unit or complaint desk where cases reported from the grassroots are handled in a systematic manner, from the point of reporting to enforcement. Perhaps it is time the two institutions liaised with other State agencies to enforce this. A women’s complaints desk can also be set up at the county level. Women travel from as far as Wajir to Nairobi-more than 600 kilometres-only for them to get stranded in the corridors of Ardhi House without knowing who to approach or where to report their complaints.
This makes them vulnerable to strangers, some who end up swindling them of cash, leaving them broke and broken. Some end up losing hope along the way while others relinquish their land rights altogether.
An effective structure-from the National Government to the county level-will increase access for women. Local administrators such as chiefs should be empowered to bring the cases they receive to the attention of the Lands ministry or NLC.
The only way to make laws impactful is by ensuring they are enforced. We can have as many laws as we can craft, but without enforcement, these will never benefit citizens. The government must focus on ensuring that persons barring women from enjoying their land rights face the law. This is the plight of many rural women who face violence as a result of land disputes.
Most women in rural setups cannot afford court fees and therefore shy away from initiating court cases to fight for their land rights. This leaves them more vulnerable to injustices. State agencies must therefore steer a robust out-of-court settlement mechanism to settle complaints received.
Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) helps complainants because matters are solved in less time compared to litigation. Besides, some experts view litigation as a source of conflict in families. In ADR, cases are resolved while maintaining family relations, largely because each party’s interests are taken into consideration and all parties are involved throughout the process.
Kenya is a signatory to several international laws on women’s rights, among them the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women. The government has shown a lot of commitment at the policy level. This should now translate to more action in implementation and enforcement of women’s land rights.
Getrude Kiprotich is a women rights lawyer. email@example.com.