According to a recent article from the IPS News Agency, women in Cameroon produce 80% of the country’s food needs yet own only 2% of the land. Though a 1974 Land Tenure Ordinance provides women with equal rights to property ownership, in reality customary tenure practices which discriminate against women sometimes trump national laws. In some cases, customary systems have provided women with secure rights to use land and resources however, recently women have experience greater difficulties protecting rights under these systems. Women’s property rights are particularly vulnerable after the death of a husband, as traditional tenure agreements often prohibit women from inheriting property.
“The inability of women to freely access and control productive resources places them in a weaker position in terms of agricultural productivity and economic growth, food security, family income and equal participation in governance,” said Fon Nsoh, coordinator of the Cameroon Movement for the Right to Food. Some local organizations, including Nsoh’s, are pushing the government of Cameroon to provide women with stronger property rights and communities with a greater voice in land negotiations, but the pace of change has been slow.
USAID’s JUSTICE project is attempting to address similar issues in Kenya. The project aims to strengthen women’s property rights by providing them with greater access to customary justice systems and raising communities’ legal awareness. Just last month, 14 women were elected as elders in the project area, meaning they are now part of the decision-making body for many disputes at the local level.