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Women owners - a fresh lease of life

Dossier

Field report from Burkina Faso

In Cassou, a rural community in central-western Burkina Faso, the NGO Groupe de recherche et d’action sur le foncier (GRAF) took up the challenge of implementing the land-tenure law adopted by the Burkinabe government in 2009 and increasing women’s access to land - it paid off.

Many husbands felt that women didn’t need to own fields since everything their wives had actually belonged to them. So why should they want to be land owners?” says Mariam Ouédraogo, who now manages 2 ha of land donated by her husband. “Some husbands feared that once their wives became economically better off, they would leave them for someone else,” she continues.

In Burkina Faso, women account for 51.7% of the population and over half of them are subsistence farmers on land - often inherited - belonging to their husbands and which they could lose at any time. In 2009, the Burkinabe government passed a rural land tenure act (Law 034) designed to ensure equal access to rural land. In 2011, in line with the implementation of this law, GRAF - a network of people concerned about land issues - initiated a project to promote land security for women in the villages of Panassian and Nessian in the rural community of Cassou. Men in these villages voluntarily accepted to permanently hand over some land to women. This two-step transfer process first involved getting men’s agreement in principle to take part in a procedure of securing their properties, followed by the surrender of their land.

Independent and empowered

Has the transfer of lands changed women’s livelihoods? “They are now more comfortable and responsible in their agricultural production activities, which they now carry out uninhibited. The increase in production also comes hand-in-hand with economic profits, to the benefit of the family,” says Pama Bénao, federal agent and head of the rural land service at Cassou. “Our activities have enabled us to provide schooling for our children. Some of the women have even been able to buy motorcycles and bicycles,” says Mariam Zallé.

Owning a piece of land empowers women and enables them to be independent. “Women are becoming more independent and are participating in covering some family expenses. I have my own crops and I’m able to help out my husband in paying the health and schooling costs,” says Salamata Nignan, who now owns 3 ha of land on which she grows groundnut and rice. Access to land also opens up other opportunities, such as access to credit for income-generating activities. However, “while developing the land they’ve acquired, women also have to preserve the cohesion of their family and maintain a good relationship with their husbands,” says Bénao.

The first step of the GRAF project was to create local structures, including a village land commission to manage land at the village level, a village land conciliation commission to settle local land disputes, and a rural land service to draw up land titles within the community. Around 100 women have now become landowners in Panassian and Nessian, but not without some challenges. “Making women landowners on par with men in rural areas was no easy task, in fact nobody believed it possible at the outset,” says Pierre Aimé Ouédraogo, executive secretary of GRAF. “The reluctance of husbands, associated with traditions, has emerged. But now the barriers have lifted and many women hold land deeds,” says Bénao.

Tomorrow?

GRAF has adopted an awareness and information based approach. Two women - Rose Marie Sanwidi, agricultural engineer, and Fatoumata Tall, legal expert - have established a dialogue between male landowners and women in both villages. To ease this process, GRAF has agreed to bear the cost of transferring land deeds for all landowners who agree to hand over or lend their land to women. A deed concerning around 1 ha of land costs FCFA 5,000 (€7.60) for staking out the land boundaries, FCFA 300 (€0.40) for the requested area (per ha of land involved), FCFA 1,000 (€1.50) for registration and FCFA 2,000 (€3) for stamp duties. “We identified 70 customary landowners. One hundred and sixty-four women were land beneficiaries following negotiations, i.e. 64 at Panassian and 100 at Niessan,” explains Dramane Diasso, deputy mayor of Cassou.

GRAF has clearly succeeded in its quest to use the rural land law to ensure that women have secure access to land in the rural community of Cassou. But holding a land deed is not enough. GRAF considers that women also need support to be able to develop their land and make them more profitable. “This is the price to be paid to enhance women’s livelihoods,” says Diasso.