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Female Parliamentarians from across Africa meet in Nairobi to discuss new policies on property rights
The African Development Bank (AfDB) and the Women in Parliaments Global Forum (WIP) convened female Parliamentarians from 12 African countries in Nairobi, Kenya, to share perspectives on strategies for female MPs to promote legal reforms which ensure that women's property rights are included in all African legal frameworks. The meeting provided an occasion to discuss and address the current African property rights landscape with special attention given to the role of MPs in advancing property and inheritance laws for women across Africa.
The major recommendations from the meeting were, among others:
- Ensuring the Harmonization of laws and reviewing and repealing discriminatory laws, by working on amending, passing or repealing necessary laws. Lack of staffing was identified as a major constraints and MPs requested the support of the Bank to develop capacity building program on research; analysis and training on the content of current laws and the types of reforms that would be considered best practices;
- Funding legislation on women and agriculture at the regional and national level;
- Promotion of better data collection through relevant ministries and ensure that Governments collect systemic sex-disaggregated data, particularly related to land and property rights. The meeting underscored the need for the African Development Bank to support collection of gender specific data;
- Highlighting specific gender targets in Ministry of agriculture strategy;
- Financing entrepreneurship in Agriculture;
- Zimbabwe is establishing a women's bank and wants AfDB's support in making sure it is a success;
- MPs identified the need to mechanize agriculture so that women can do a better job of feeding their families and realizing better yields;
- Information sharing and sensitization;
- Access to Justice/Legal aid: When women's rights are violated, they are too poor and don't have the means to go through extended litigation. MPs should fight for legal aid provisions through the parliament. Other support networks of women lawyers should be explored and capacitated.
The Bank and WIP will carefully consider the points raised and identify that will inform an action plan that will be ready by January 2017. The outcome of the meeting in Nairobi will lead up to the discussion during the WIP Global Summit 2017. Members of the WIP Council on Economic Empowerment from all regions of the world are expected to attend this high-level Summit.
This event was the first meeting of the WIP Council on Economic Empowerment and brought together active female Parliamentarians from the WIP network in Africa, academia and other research institutions, government officials, business leaders and members of CSOs to discuss and provide innovative solutions to the challenges related to women's property rights, in order to achieve women's economic development. The purpose of the WIP Council is to address issues (legal and institutional), share best practices, stimulate dialogue, shape agendas, advocate and drive legislative reforms at the national and regional level. Council Members will meet annually at WIP Summits, targeted African Development Bank Annual Meetings as well as during targeted regional meetings.
Gabriel Negatu, Director General of the AfDB's Eastern Africa Regional Center (EARC) provided welcoming remarks, highlighting that "Africa has witnessed significant progress on gender equality. Despite this progress, there are still areas such as the legal status and land and property rights, where more is yet to be done". The AfDB believes that the continent's long-term competitiveness depends on how well Africa empowers its women. In many African countries, however, unequal access to property, discriminatory laws including land and tenure rights, and discrimination in the labor market, and business-related obstacles hinder women from contributing even more to their countries' growth and well-being. According to the Social Institutions and Gender Index (SIGI) of the OECD, which classifies countries around the world according to their level of discrimination, only 20% of all countries in the low discrimination category are African; while an overwhelming 82% are found in the very high discrimination category. We should also recognize that Africa is doing better in using the potential of women in politics with 16 of the 46 countries with 30 or more women in parliament being African, including apart from the world champion Rwanda, countries like Sudan (30%), Tunisia and Algeria (31%); Ethiopia (39%); Mozambique (40%) and Senegal (43%). The Bank is very active in moving the agenda of women's economic empowerment and today, we will speak about some of the initiatives we have put in place to advance this agenda. We must take advantage of partnerships to ensure we remove these obstacles and invest in gender equality, hence the critical importance of partnering with MPs given their unique role in passing/advancing laws that ensure gender equality and women's economic empowerment.
Florence Mutua, member of the Kenyan parliament pointed out that: "We cannot talk about creating the necessary legislations and policies to grant women their rights without also discussing structures that empower women access to resources and more importantly, property. The unequal ratio of ownership between men and women contributes substantially to this condition. Lack of rights to tenure or ownership render many women unable to protect themselves, and this in turn prevent access to credit through lack of collateral, thus reinforcing the control that men traditionally have over the household and its dependents. These underlying issues are the main reason that we need laws that specifically speak to access to and ownership of property. In Africa, only a handful of countries including Burkina Faso, Malawi, Mozambique, Niger, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Zimbabwe and more recently Kenya have laws that speak to women's access to property. It took Kenya more than 50 years to come up with the Matrimonial Property law that gives women rights to property ownership in marriage, this even against the backdrop of one of the most progressive Constitutions in the world with regards to gender equality".
The Special Envoy on Gender and Vice-President of the African Development Bank, Geraldine J Fraser Moleketi, explained that: It is widely acknowledged that property rights and inheritance laws directly impact women's economic livelihoods. This is particularly true for women in agriculture, where land is a central asset for crop production, animal rearing, and other income generating activities. Secure land rights allow women to realize food security for themselves and their families, to leverage land assets as capital for forward looking investments, and to generate wealth. Strengthening women's property and inheritance rights is critical to empowering their full economic and social potential. Lack of property ownership and asset control prevents women from realizing their full potential in the agricultural sector. Studies have shown that women's rights over land are inferior to those of men. The strength of one's property rights defines the incentives to invest time, energy, and other resources into any business venture. Absent land title or other assets, banks will not lend to female famers who seek to grow their agricultural business. As indicated in a study conducted by the Bank entitled: 'Legal Frameworks and Women's Voice and Agency in Africa'. The study suggests that 16 countries still create barriers to women's access to financial services, be it in opening bank accounts, or applying for national identity cards; 17 countries still do not have legislation to protect women from domestic violence, leaving them vulnerable and restricting their voice and agency.
The Special Envoy incites Parliamentarians to be bolder as they have the responsibility and the ability to accomplish much for women in economic sectors (i.e. agriculture), through a variety of mechanisms. These mechanisms include: (1) review and repeal of discriminatory laws; (2) promotion of better data collection through relevant ministries; (3) insistence on specific gender targets; (4) financing entrepreneurship in agriculture; (5) information dissemination and legal aid.
The AfDB strongly believes in the critical role of Members of Parliament particularly in advocating for the legal reforms that will benefit women, including in their quest to access finance. The Bank is also working with a number of parliamentary networks such as WIP to ensure MPs receive the support required to tackle some of the identified challenges. The Special Envoy concludes by appealing to all the legislator to help Governments to push to push and reform discriminatory legislations and help effect legal and policy reforms for gender equality. Only when women are able to follow their dreams freely, Africa reach its full potential.