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Women’s struggles in land acquisition, retention

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By Wanangwa Mtawali, Contributor:

DAMALA—The challenge is big when the woman is divorced

Forty-two-year-old Magdalena Moffat from Mwalala Village, Traditional Authority (T/A) Kalumo in Ntchisi District, almost lost her four-acre piece of land to her uncle.

Magdalena, who is divorced, says she inherited the piece of land from her mother who passed away.

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If her uncle had succeeded in taking away that piece of land from her, she would have been left destitute because she would have had no source of means of farming to harvest food to feed her five children, two of them in school, she says.

Her story is almost similar to that of 29-year-old Aness Chiophya from Galuafukila Village in the same area of T/A Kalumo, whose uncle also wanted to grab her piece of land in her home village of Mkhalapathumba after her father died.

She says, like any other child in their family, her father allocated to her three acres of land which she wanted to use for crop production to supplement her husband’s efforts in bringing up their four children.

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Apparently, their farmland in Galuafukila Village is too small to sustain them.

Both Magdalena and Aness have women action groups (Wags) supported by Centre for Multiparty Democracy (CMD) to thank for saving them and for giving them the right and power to recover what is rightly theirs

Wags are a product of Accessibility and Accountability for Agriculture Resources in Malawi project, which is being implemented in T/A Kalumo and Chiloko in Ntchisi and Rumphi districts by CMD with funding from Dan Church Aid.

According to CMD Programmes Officer, Cydric Damala, Wags are the frontline champions in the successful implementation of the Accessibility and Accountability for Agriculture Resources in Malawi project which is also known as ‘The Right to Food Project’.

Wags, acting as advisers to chiefs on key agriculture resources such as land, comprise between 20 and 24 women including four male champions.

“They are responsible for making sure that there is accessibility and accountability for agriculture resources at local level especially for women. One of the resources we focus on is land because, when it comes to ownership and control of land, men dominate,” Damala says.

He adds: “The challenge comes in when the woman is divorced. Much as Ntchisi is matrilineal, most women go to their husband’s home when they get married. And when they return to their home villages, they find that somebody else has taken up their land and it is difficult for them to repossess it.”

At the height of the wrangle with her uncle over her piece of land in 2016, just before the The Right to Food Project began, Magdalena was hopeless, unable to find a just forum where she could seek redress.

Her efforts to have her issue resolved through Village Head Mwalala were initially fruitless until she explained her problem to Christina Chisale, a Wag member in the village.

“A Wag member is always available to bring victims such as Magdalena and their oppressors before relevant authorities where their matters are thoroughly discussed and amicably resolved,” Damala stresses.

After friendly discussions, putting in context land laws in Malawi, human rights and women’s rights issues, Village Head Mwalala was able to determine a verdict that made Magdalena’s uncle understand and their wrangle is water under the bridge.

“My uncle is now busy with his own work. He is no longer stalking me over my land,” a beaming Magdalena confessed. “I harvested 35 bags of maize and six bags of soya on my land in the last farming season. I sold some of these and used the money I realised to pay school fees for my two children.”

For Aness, it was Wag chairperson living in her village, Soften Phiri, who helped her by engaging her uncle who gave in and released the land to his younger brother’s daughter.

Aness says she harvested 14 bags of maize, five bags of soya and groundnuts on her Mkhalapathumba land in the last farming season which has never been the case on their tiny land in Galuafukila.

Phiri said it is pleasing that many people are becoming aware of the role of Wag members in their areas and are coming forth with their problems to be resolved.

In Chocho village, Wag’s Liviness Kawenda helped 28-year-old Judith Chinkhani reclaim her piece of while in Mwazalamba Village, Wag male champion, Philimon John, successfully intervened when an uncle wanted to grab land from six underage nephews and nieces after their mother died and their father abandoned them.

Damala says they are looking at specific issues that can make people have food and resources that go into agriculture to achieve food security for everyone.

“One of the issues that came up during the project is the need to support the Food and Nutrition Bill, which is at Cabinet level and we are hoping that it should be tabled in the current meeting of Parliament.

“Wags will be sustainable through working with village tribunals that are a provision in the implementation of the Land Act and their duty is to report to chiefs on matters bordering on land distribution and disputes,” Damala says.

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