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Good InfoWomen in the DRC are pushing for land rights, and curbing gender-based...

Women in the DRC are pushing for land rights, and curbing gender-based violence in the process – Positive News

For centuries, male land inheritance in the DRC has stymied women’s access to their own livelihoods. Now, in one region, women are pushing back – opening up the possibility of economic independence

“Since Angélique owns her land, I’ve seen an enormous change in our family,” says Justin Kulimushi. “Before I drank all the money I made and didn’t give any to the family.  When I came home, I could insult her and sometimes hit her,” he adds, talking on Zoom in Swahili through an interpreter.  “Now, her field helps feed the family and we are no longer hungry. I really appreciate Angélique now.” 

Angélique Mwa Namupopa, her husband and their nine children live in Nyangezi, a cluster of 43 farming villages, near Bukavu in south Kivu, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). In DRC, like in most developing countries, very few women own the land they toil on. Women represent almost half of the agricultural workforce worldwide, but only a fifth of landowners. “Here in the Congo, those who have the land, have the wealth. Women who are denied access to land will remain poor and marginalised,” says Chantal Kizungu, advocacy coordinator at Women for Women International (WfWi) in Bukavu.   

The charity has worked over the past five years in Nyangezi to teach women, but also male community leaders, about women’s land rights and gender-based violence. Their approach is unusual: while most land rights projects across the world aim to change national laws and land policies, WfWi believes the real challenge lies in customary laws and practices. 

The 2005 DRC constitution grants equal rights for men and women. More recently, the country has issued laws that further strengthen gender equality, and ratified international conventions. But these laws are seldom applied, especially in the countryside where centuries of traditions prevail. 

Before owning her land, Mwa Namupopa worked on other people’s fields in exchange for a small stipend – about 1$ (£0.75) per day, the price of a small measure of manioc flour.    

Her husband owns land, but she never thought of asking him if she could farm there. “I didn’t know that a woman could use her husband’s land.” 

Since I got my land certificate, I’ve put on weight. In our community, we put on weight when we feel good

Kizungu explains: “In our culture, the man is the supreme chief of the family. Women labour in the fields, but when it’s harvest time, the men come back, often drink the proceeds and [often] beat their wives. There is a lot of violence against women, who are seen as inferior with no value and no voice.” 

Things began to change for Mwa Namupopa in 2020, when she was selected by WfWi, along other women and 20 influential men, to be “agents of change” – grassroots advocates, who were coached, then could share what they had learned with their families and the larger community through dialogue, workshops and radio programmes.   

 “We learned that women have a legal right to own the land – that it was Congolese law,” Mwa Namupopa says. “We talked about regional, national and international laws protecting women’s rights and how customs cannot be above laws.” 


Angélique Mwa Namupopa with her land certificate

Mwa Namupopa shared what she had learned with her husband and encouraged him to attend a men’s discussion group. “There we learned that women were human beings just like men with the same rights,” Kulimushi says.  

When Mwa Namupopa asked him for some land, she was pleasantly surprised that he agreed. “I could see that if I gave Angélique this land, it would benefit our family,” he explains. 

Not all the men were as easily convinced. Some young men felt that the land given to their mothers would mean a lost inheritance, and some older men feared that women would leave them once they owned their land, Kizungu says. 

Already 145 women have obtained land titles via the scheme, with around 300 more applications awaiting approval

Yet so far 145 women have acquired land titles, and an estimated 300 additional applications are pending. Of these, 176 plots were given by men to their wives. The project is now over, but WfWi keeps getting requests to continue and expand the scheme to other villages. The organisation lacks the funds to progress this at the moment.  

For Mwa Namupopa, owning her land was a gamechanger. “[Since] I got my land certificate, I’ve put on weight. In our community, we put on weight when we feel good,” she says, beaming.  

She has cleared her 70m by 60m land, chopping off banana trees to plant maize, beans and manioc. “Now, I have a good harvest roughly every three months, enough to feed my family.”   

The impacts of land rights for women are significant and extensive, says Kizungu. “When a woman owns her own field, she’ll be independent economically and that will decrease the risk of domestic violence. The land will generate income for her family for the rest of her life and will be inherited by her children. Women will often invest her proceeds in her family, paying for school fee, health and household needs, and this has a cascading impact on her children.”

Images: WfWi 

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