Women’s land, inheritance and property rights in Uganda | Land Portal
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Date: December 16th 2015

By Rogers Mugabo 

The women and men in Uganda do not own land on equal basis and there is no consensus as to whether women ought to own, access and control land or not. 

This is because, effective statutory laws protecting land, inheritance and property rights of women including the widowed, divorced, separated or those in co-habitation are critically missing. 

The Government has been very slow to improve legal equality between women and men through legislating on family laws that would increase gender equality that would in turn increase women’s access to matrimonial property and inheritance rights. 

Generally, there is lack of clear laws to address equality in land ownership, divorce and marriage which affects women’s capacity to enjoy equal rights with men, and this affects their women’s health, economic and social rights. Consequently, women continue to be disadvantaged by prevailing gender inequalities as a result of persistent negative and discriminatory practices which affects women’s economic and social well-being. 

Majority of the people in Uganda including some women assert that, traditionally land belongs to men which in my view are incorrect. For example, the traditional and cultural practices of most communities in pre-colonial Uganda enabled both women and men to access land. Neither men nor women owned land; they both had equal access to land and the issue of ownership did not arise.

It is only when colonialists introduced capitalism that the issue of men owning land was introduced while women and children were expected to provide free labor in order to maximize on profits. Land and property were appropriated by men as “bread-winners” surprisingly today, men continue to be regarded as bread-winners even in circumstances where it is their wives sustaining the families. 

To this, the assertion that traditionally land belongs to men is a clear evidence of men’s greed towards property grabbing and money. Different societies in Uganda have conferred different roles and responsibilities to men and women within the households and in communities. In general, they have entrusted reproductive chores, food crop production and food processing to women but resources such as land needed to meet these responsibilities are vested in men.

Women play a critical role in the sustenance of their families, communities and the country’s agricultural sector and they constitute the largest work force on land where they produce food, engage in small scale home-based businesses and contribute significantly to the country’s economy. In spite of the significant scientific and technological advancements in all spheres of life, land is still a very important resource for the livelihoods especially the rural women. 

However, the extent to which land is owned, controlled and accessed in Uganda remains a highly male dominated. Tradition long standing discrimination of women through norms and practices that exclude women from owning, inheriting and controlling land in society continue to deprive women of land rights, thereby perpetuating women’s economic dependence on male relatives. 

It is this continued economic dependency of women on men that has maintained in part women’s poverty, prevailing domestic violence, women’s absence in decision-making processes and continued violation of their property rights. For example, women in the oil and gas region of Bunyoro have experienced discrimination in land compensation and sales especially where government acquired land for the oil refinery. 

Compensation of households affected was effected from the unfair and unequal consideration of household head thereby condoning unequal compensation of spouses with women being almost excluded from the processes.

Despite the recommendations from CEDAW Committee Concluding observations on Uganda state report in 2010, Uganda has not done much to address inequalities faced by women. For instance, Parliament has failed to pass the marriage and Divorce laws and the Succession Bill. Uganda needs to move a step ahead and fully eradicate formal discrimination between women and men. 

Uganda also needs to take meaningful steps to address substantive discrimination by persisting negative cultural practices that has deprived women of land and property. The recent Concluding Observations and recommendations from the Committee on Economic Social Cultural Rights (CESCR) to Uganda-2015, reiterates the steps Uganda should take.          

Whereas i recommend some positive developments that have taken place in terms of law and policy reform in favour of women’s land and property rights such as the National Land policy 2013, I also remind government that the implementation and enforcement of such laws and policies remains a huge challenge.  

A more holistic approach is still needed to reform all family laws, and to link the gaps in the law and the practices on ground particularly those related to inheritance and matrimonial property and land ownership. The Women of Uganda are demanding the government to take action for meaningful gender equality reforms if they are to realise their land and property rights. 

The writer is a human rights activist and the director of programmes at Centre for Economic Social Cultural Rights in Africa (CESCRA).

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