Women, Land and Northern Uganda
As a rural and agrarian community, the most important resource in Northern Uganda is land. Before the war, the Acholi clan system for managing land and resources was inclusive: its traditional institutions, customs and social conventions ensured use of land for the whole clan, including women and girls. Traditionally, Acholi women are not accorded equal status with men: a woman typically does not have land rights independently. After she marries, whether a woman has secure rights to land depends on the strength of her relationship with her husband’s family and clan.
However, twenty years of conflict has fractured the households, communities, and institutions that form the foundation of the customary system. The rules and norms governing Acholiland management are upheld by local clan leaders, yet years of living in displacement camps separated from their communities and territories has eroded their power. Additionally, death, displacement, abductions, and hardship associated with the war disrupted many family relationships and important cultural rites.
Amid this prevailing climate of uncertainty, abuse and violations of the customary rules are common, and land conflicts are on the rise. Where customary leadership has weakened, women may face an especially difficult time negotiating and defending their rights to land. This is particularly so if they – or their husbands – have only weak connections to a living male clan member. At the same time, the weakened or non-existent formal institutions and land administration bodies in the region offer few opportunities for women or girls, traditionally the least powerful in a community, to enforce their rights to land.
In 2010, The Landesa Center for Women’s Land Rights (LCWLR) began working to improve the lives of rural women in northern Uganda by strengthening their rights to land within the context of customary land governance. The project’s aim is to develop and test a land rights-based, replicable model to help strengthen women’s land rights under customary tenure. In addition to concrete improvements in the tenure security of women in the pilot communities, the project will help to inform broader advocacy efforts in Uganda and other developing countries in which women face barriers to secure land rights.
Through this project, LCWLR and our Ugandan partners, Women and Rural Development Network (WORUDET) and Associates in Research Uganda (ARD) have developed and refined a model for strengthening women’s land rights under custom, and have recently initiated a pilot to test the refined model with 200-250 women in Pader and Agago Districts. The model, in essence, is to help women, within a community who self-identify as interested in improving their land tenure situation, to form groups that meet regularly with Community Based Facilitators, strong women from the community, who are trained to know and understand the issues and laws related to women’s land rights. The women’s groups identify possible avenues for negotiating for secure land rights once they fully understand their rights, both legally and within their customary system.
- 1Short term project goals. The immediate project goals are twofold: to empower women in the target communities to identify and overcome their particular challenges in improving their tenure security by both objective and subjective measures; and to refine and pilot a model to secure land rights for women that can be replicated elsewhere in northern Uganda and beyond.
- 2Longer term project goal. In the longer term, LCWLR aims to strengthen women’s land tenure in Uganda and Africa by ensuring that policies and programming reflect what is feasible and effective in practice, based on ground-tested and proven strategies.