WINDHOEK - There is a need to look at ways on creating avenues that would result in more women occupying roles in traditional authorities. This would address some of the social ills women in rural areas are experiencing because of laws that do not necessarily favour women.
This is according to Wilhelmina Tameca Gaoses, the project manager for the One World, No hunger project at the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung.
Gaoses works with rural women by empowering them on land rights through training.
“Some women have experienced land grabbing and some are widows who have lost their properties as a result, leaving their children very vulnerable,” shared Gaoses.
Some of the challenges that women in rural setups encounter include the fear of openly expressing themselves in front of traditional leaders for fear of being labelled as people who disregard traditional customary laws, explained Gaoses.
“Normally when these workshops are facilitated we have to invite traditional authorities, we have to invite village headmen so most of them time men speak up. So men have got more of a free-will to speak up about the issues that they are facing,” explained Gaoses.
The concerns men voice are mainly on how the Land Reform Act has dismantled traditional practices, said Gaoses.
“The women’s concerns are that communal land rights cannot be registered under two names. Most of the communal land rights being processed on application are mostly those of men and when the men divorce or dies, the families of the men grab the land from the widow and this leaves the children more vulnerable,” explained Gaoses.
And, because communal land does not belong to an individual but rather a community when it comes to inheritance, women lose out, added Gaoses. As a result, women do not have access to property rights or other possessions that they have accumulated.
Gaoses is of the view that even though to some extent women are suppressed by traditional laws, they add value to communal land as they do most of the work as caregivers of this land.
Gaoses says existing gaps that make it difficult for women to own land need to be addressed and women need to be heard through established platforms.
Asked on how women’s silence in meetings with traditional authorities impact on their voices being heard and also them occupying leadership positions, Gaoses said the process of applying for communal land rights is governed in such a way that women are not in those decision making bodies.
“There are few women in decision-making processes in rural areas. Women are serving as secretaries in traditional authorities or as opposed as committee members but they do not have roles where they are able to influence decisions and bring changes,” Gaoses emphasised.
She further said, “Most of the women are saying they can’t get up now and change the culture, for example how a headman is elected to that position. We only have one queen in traditional authorities. The Oukwanyama queen. That’s the only queen that we have, the rest are kings so how do we change those customary and traditional practices to bring that paradigm shift so that women can start taking up those decision-making roles so that women can have influence?”
Gaoses further noted that communal land board has made provision for four women to serve on the board but there are no linkages between those women and women at the community level.”
The One world, No hunger project was launched in 2016 and the focus was and the project beneficiaries include traditional authorities, religious heads, headmen, chiefs as well as community members.
“We cover the elements of the Traditional Act, the Communal Land Reform Act as well as the fundamental human rights issues around gender equality as well the roles and functions of traditional authorities,” Gaoses said, explaining the purpose of the project.