Access to and ownership of land for women is often problematic, particularly when the law and culture collide.
By reconciling customary norms with national laws and international human rights standards, women’s realities in relation to land can be successfully addressed.
The Commonwealth Secretariat’s efforts to help women secure their land rights draws on the roles of the judiciary, land officials and traditional authority to bring about change in women’s lives.
The Secretariat’s Gender Section has worked with the Justice Section to produce Women’s Land Rights Handbooks in Cameroon, Kenya, Nigeria and Sierra Leone. The handbooks for these jurisdictions focus on judicial and administrative processes by which women may acquire and realise their land rights.
In Cameroon, the Secretariat worked in partnership with the Samaritan House of Empowerment (SHE), an advocacy group spearheaded by eminent women judges, to popularise the handbook. The handbook has been abridged and translated to pidgin and French with accompanying audio guides in local languages. The information dissemination is complemented with radio jingles and training and advocacy targeting rural women, magistrates and land officials at the provincial level.
Land rights have been advanced for those women caught between culture and the law through strengthening their access to justice. Awareness of women’s access to and ownership of land has also increased, including among lay magistrates and traditional authorities responsible for addressing issues of land access and ownership.
As a result of the training and dissemination activities on the handbook, the ministry of women’s empowerment and the family is working with SHE and a group of women judges to advocate with the law ministry on women’s land rights in the proposed family code. SHE is also collaborating with the ministry of women’s empowerment and the family to convene seminars which are expected to reach over 1,000 women in Yaoundé.
“Before the Commonwealth came up with the Cameroon Women's Land Rights Handbook, land law in Cameroon was hitherto nebulous and user-unfriendly as the laws are many and scattered in different texts. … the handbook has proved to be empowering and a trump card for women, elucidating for men, instructive for the traditional rulers, and thought-provoking for policy makers” – Judge Vera Ngassa, Cameroon
Samaritan House of Empowerment (SHE) Cameroon