Long before the women’s movement ushered in an era of renewed concern with the status of the ‘girl child’, the African woman was characterized as “jural minor” for most of her life falling under the guardianship first of her father and then of her husband. Whenever one is comparing women and men, a better situation and a higher status are always ascribed to men. Women are depicted as ‘saddled’ with home and domesticity; men are portrayed as enjoying the exhilaration of life in the outside world.
Women as “jural minors”, they are excluded from rights regarding children and property under customary laws. Their rights are often assured through the security of the often times, male household heads. Because of these patrilineal inheritance custom laws, production resources, properties and environmental resources end up in the hands of men. The right on how they are used lie in their hands as well. Consequently, women remain with little resources for self-improvement within their families and communities at large. Within these patrilineal communities, there is a strong resistance by men towards endowing women, especially daughters with equal rights to access and use land resources.
Although men and the society at large have conspired against women, they still play a vital role in the society. In their what is considered an inferior status, women are left to toil on the farms while men go to the city in search of exhilarating life. As the workers of the land, women become our daily managers of the living environment gaining profound knowledge of the plants, animals and ecological process around them. Knowledge that is needed in environmental conservation and climate change mitigation. However, due to the negative perception of women as “jural minors” and their denial of land ownership rights, this important knowledge resource is seldom tapped. Women are neither consulted nor considered by development strategists – the men. The entire situation leads to a laisser-faire attitude from the women. Letting men do what they want with land including degrading it.
Men, with their money-oriented reasoning, they have no regard for environmental considerations. When men farm, they only focus on commercial farming which heavily rely on external inputs to maximize profits. In my county, men promoted systems include huge tracts of mono-cultured sugar plantations in whose place originally stood rich tropical forests oozing with rich biodiversity. Women on the other hand, farm for food. They are directly dependent on their immediate environment for their daily necessities of life. They are usually the first and hardest hit by environmental mismanagement and so the more reason they should be given unlimited rights to own and use land. My village Khumusalaba is perfect example of how environmental protection as well as good returns can be accrued when women are given rights over land.
Unlike many villages in my county where women are not allowed to inherit land and when their household heads pass away they are chased from the property; Khumusaba prides itself as one of the villages where women have right to own land just like men. Under these circumstances, our resources are sustainably managed. This is thanks to our women having rights over land and being able to practice their rich knowledge of ecological processes. Whereas people in the adjacent areas are still growing sugarcane and have cleared forests to create room for the same, the women of Khumusala have conserved their forests for their firewood and by extension, these forests are home to many small wild animals. Since they can’t cook sugarcane, women in my village cultivate diverse edible crops and keep animals both of which contribute to their daily meals. They also say that animals and crops depend on each other; animals feed on the crops and then produce manure which is used in feeding the crops creating a closed loop flow of nutrients.
Going by my village, women are good managers of our natural resource. By giving them rights to own and use land just like men, women will not simply be mainstreamed into the already “polluted stream”. Women will change the stream, making it clean and green and safe for all — every gender, race, creed, sexual orientation, age, and ability. For women are true heroes.