Social actors such as cultural, religious, opinion leaders are highly influential in the communities they serve. They make decisions, settle disputes and help people they lead to have a sense of belonging. By virtue of their roles and responsibilities, cultural leaders have the potential to play a key role in promoting change of attitudes and beliefs among the people they lead. They also have authority to counsel, advice and punish perpetrators of any kind of practice or behavior deemed unacceptable. So if they are deliberately targeted and involved in interventions aimed at addressing gender inequalities and promoting and protecting women’s rights, they will lead to a systematic change within the decision making structures/organs that can promote gender equality within both formal and informal institutions.
Accordingly, a total of 120 social actors including clan, religious, and opinion leaders were recently identified and oriented by ACFODE under the project: Fostering Women’s Leadership To Advance Women’s Land Rights in Uganda in the Districts Of Kotido, Kaabong, Kitgum, Lamwo, Nebbi And Arua. The training aimed at creating awareness amongst social actors on legal framework for women land rights particularly in relation to Maputo protocol, Gender concepts and perspectives legal and policy framework on VAW/G.
The legal and policy framework for women’ rights promotion in Uganda is enshrined in the 1995 Uganda constitution. Article 33 states that women, shall have equal rights, dignity and opportunities as men. Uganda is also party to a number of international and regional instruments that commit the country to strive for gender equality such as the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and the Maputo protocol which were ratified by the government of Uganda.
In Northern Uganda, the traditional justice system is more dominant; clan leaders and elders determine the shape of the development agenda and this system is highly respected by government. However, the local governance system also prevails and local communities are more loyal and pay allegiance to the traditional system and leaders unlike to government leaders. This limits women’s abilities to access their rights to their own and their family’s land and limits their capacity to claim redress or to seek protection where these rights are violated. However much there is progress in improving women’s status in Uganda, such as the increasing participation of women in political spaces, education and health, land ownership, their development continues to lag behind that of men. Women are perceived as possessions and known to be wives/mothers/caretakers/assistants and Uganda being one of a patriarchal society, male dominance in decision making.
During the women land rights orientation for social actors in the regions of Karamoja, Acholi and WestNile, issues of women being marginalized in accessing land, ownership and control over land, skills development and inheritance rights were evident during the discussions that were held. For instance, women are not allowed to own land. When a man dies, the clan leaders take over all the possessions and decisions are made by the clan leaders but not the woman. Women are part of the property. A clan leader from Lamwo District. Even with several laws and policies aimed at protecting and promoting the rights of women over land continue to be violated due to poor implementation and ignorance of the existing laws such as the land Act.
“I was raised as an orphan, with my mother landless. After our father died the uncles grabbed our mothers property and we grew up landless and as destitutes. I will ensure my daughters get a share of the land I have been able to buy because I don’t want them to leave a life my mother lived” Acan Cen Moses-Clan leader Nebbi district.
In Kotido District, a religious leader highlighted a need for vigorous sensitization of communities on women land rights, and the relevant laws and policies that protect and promote women land rights. Succession law is very clear on land issues and as religious leaders being overwhelmed by land wrangles we have gained knowledge and skills in women land rights. I can now ably defend the rights of women over land, and cite the relevant laws and policies.
The social actors comprised of cultural and clan leaders, religious, representatives of the district land boards and community development officers selected from each of the project intervention. Commitments were generated by male/female champions inform of action plans, and pledged to utilize the different forums and spaces to sensitize communities on the importance of women land rights and the existing laws and policies.
ACFODE envisages a society where social actors act as champions in the promotion and protection of women land rights, women as part of decision makers and adherence to the existing laws and policies that aim at protecting women rights.
Compiled by Happy Ainomugisha
Human Rights & Governance Department