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Land empowerment an avenue out of poverty for women

Last week in his speech during the commemoration of the International Women’s Day, President Edgar Lungu made a policy pronouncement over the allocation of land to women.
It is now policy that those that allocate land, local councils in particular and other entities, should set aside 50 percent of the lot to women.
This is in an effort to empower women further.
The empowerment of women has been a thorny issue in the quest for equality. Land forms one of the benchmarks for the empowerment of women.
Land is one of the factors of production and a necessity in the quest for the enhancement of women’s rights.
Access to land by women in Zambia still remains a tricky matter. Traditional practice favours men in the giving of land. That is why there are more men than women who own land.
Worse still, women are not considered as those who can own land. Well they can farm on it, but it is inconceivable that a portion should belong to the women.
Women activists argue that this is an unfair practice. More women work on the land. It is also said that most of the food which finds its way into our homes is produced by women.
But the sad reality is that despite their hard work on the land, women find themselves disadvantaged after the death of their spouses.
They are dispossessed of the land they once farmed on, and with nowhere to live, they sometimes end up being destitute.
Development specialists state that development without women is no development at all. This is why those who advocate women’s rights have put up a spirited fight for the empowerment of women. And  their case has been heard.
Initially, the percentage of allocation of land to women has been at 30 percent but now the 50 percent is a positive upward adjustment.
It is cause for progressive women to rejoice and see themselves as striving towards achieving one of their objectives in the seeking of equal rights between men and women.
Land guarantees security against a number of factors, with the main one being poverty. A woman with land stands a chance to obtain a loan and use the land as collateral.
With land in her possession, she is able to weave her way out of poverty by tilling it and growing crops for sale. There are a number of women who have been able to transition from humble surroundings to a fairer life.
In a more advanced case, one can lease out the land and earn some income for family. In this way, the empowerment by land forms an avenue out of poverty.
Women should see the recent pronouncement by the President as a recognition of the important role they play in the development of the nation.
Men and women are partners in development and the objectives of development can only be achieved when both have equal access to land, among other things.
The pronouncement is further a mainstreaming of the land policy. It specifically spells out the portion of land that should be reserved for women in land allocation.
It is also a milestone for advocates of women’s rights. The need to change the policy on land is now apparent to reflect the new policy pronouncement.
In all this, women are the beneficiaries. They should guard against being abused by men. Because of the inability by some women to access land during allocation, some men are bound to use them to gain access to land being allocated. Then they will be abandoned and walk away empty-handed.
The temptation to access land based on the new policy and then later sell it to others may overcome some women. Looking at the momentary gain can appear more attractive but the long life effects will remain. Women should therefore put to good use land obtained under this new policy. They are being empowered and they should see the pronouncement as a way of helping them to weave their way out of poverty.
The process of regularising land ownership at Ministry of Lands is likely to remain an obstacle in the achievement of the new pronouncement. The attitude of some officers and the work culture that characterises some offices in the ministry may take away from the empowerment of women. A number of women do not have the resources to trek to the Ministry of Lands every so often.
Decentralising its operations or creating a one-stop kind of arrangement will remove some of the challenges women face.
Urgent measures should be put in place so that women have title to their land as a sure guarantee of ownership. This will seal security for the women.
The author is Sunday Mail editor.