A desperate and largely unknown humanitarian crisis is deteriorating in the Lake Chad Basin region of West Africa, forcing millions of people to flee their homes and leaving millions more in need of humanitarian assistance. Oxfam is providing life-saving support but help is urgently needed to prevent the crisis turning into a catastrophe.
One of the recurring things that Oxfam staff and partners hear about through their work is that women are more likely to become the victims of land grabs. There are manyreasons, from cultural to legal, why women are more vulnerable to losing their land, if they ever had the chance to own it in the first place.
Tackling this injustice involves working with people that often find themselves in tough circumstances, with difficult stories and at the same tie working with governments and law makers to shape the nitty-gritty of the policies that leave many women without the land they need to support themselves and their families.
The blog below comes from an Daryl Leyesa, who works for he National Rural Women Coalition (PKKK), an Oxfam partner in the Philippines. The title is inspired by Alice Walker’s collection of essays "In Search of Our Mothers’ Garden" - a must read for all!
When my grandmother died, a bulldozer was stationed outside her nipa hut as there was an evacuation notice already served before she got terribly ill. The lot was just "borrowed" and the landowner planned to convert it into a subdivision. Widowed early, grandmother Precy couldn’t afford to buy her own property as she had to raise four kids on her meager income as a laundry woman.
My grandmother’s story flashes through my mind every time I talk with rural women who would share their dreams of having their own farm lands and home lots. I would like to think that her story was my mother’s inspiration too when she purchased a lot out of her retirement pay as a public school teacher - perhaps a promise to a mother who never had the chance to enjoy planting her very own garden.
In my conversations with the women farmers, I realized that the stories behind this dream of acquiring their own land are very varied. What is common is that they placed high hopes on the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP), which is a state-led social justice program that promises land to the tillers - land to the landless . On this note, the women’s stories and questions begin – who are the tillers? Who are the landless?
For Sally, who had been tilling their land since she was 14 years old, she was not qualified as farmer beneficiary to the Hacienda dela Rama lands in Negros. The Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) justified this under the so-called practice of "one family, one CLOA." The CLOAs or certificate of land ownership award/s were often registered only in the name of the husbands. Sally was a survivor of frequent beatings and threats inflicted by her husband, which made it more than necessary to have a land to her own name.
With other five women farmers, she signed a petition to the DAR for inclusion as individual beneficiary, but to no avail. To complicate the situation, private armed goons destroyed her house because she was identified as the leader of the farmers’ group that pushed for the CARP coverage of the said Hacienda.
Sally's non-inclusion in the ARB list can be linked with women's status as farm workers. Compared with the men, many of the women farm workers have lower wages and do not receive social security benefits. Some may not even be reflected in the payroll, which is one of the bases for identifying farmer beneficiaries.
Rebs and her husband were cultivating a portion of a 12 hectare foreclosed land in Bunawan, Agusan Sur when the CARP was implemented in their province. Their daily routine was: husband would leave at around 7 a.m. in the morning to undertake some functions in the barangay/village hall; while Rebs would tend their crops ofd rice, banana, coconut and other fruit-bearing trees.
Because it was her husband who dealt with the village matters, her husband took charge of relating with the provincial DAR office concerning the agrarian reform processes. In 1999, the certificate of land ownership award was issued; but it was in the name of Rebs’ husband. Rebs said that she preferred the land title reflect both of their names: “Mas maganda kung Mr. & Mrs. (better to specify Mr & Mrs).” she said. Rebs lamented that when she and her husband quarreled, her husband would often remark that he alone could decide on what to do with the land.
One of the key concerns among women agrarian reform beneficiaries is the manner of titling. The practice in agrarian reform titling has been naming the CLOAs to the husband, followed by a description of relationship to the wife, i.e. "married to". Under the Family Code, this form of titling can already be interpreted as a common property regime between the couple. However, from the perspective of the women farmers, this merely describes their relationship to their husbands, but NOT their relationship to the land. It is important to put the names of the women farmers on equal status as the men, i.e. "spouses Maria and Juan" because it is only through this that they are regarded as both farmers
Conchita Masin recounted: "Nasa unahan kaming mga kababaihan noong panahon ng labanan para sa lupa, pero nang ma-award na, hindi na nabigyang pansin ang kababaihan sa mga programa." (We, the women, were at the forefront in the struggle for land, but when the farmlands were finally awarded, we were excluded from the programs). Conching was referring to credit programs and other support services that seemed to have always been lacking with respect to rural women’s needs. Being an agrarian reform beneficiary in Governor Generoso, Davao Oriental, Conching shared how women were literally at the front of rallies, picket lines, and land occupations.
It has been argued that as long as women are the front liners, the farmers are less likely to be affronted with violence from either the private armed group or government forces. Apparently this was a myth. Conching was among those who braved the bullets that welcomed them when they occupied the land that have been awarded to them. She was glad to have been spared from any wounds, but she remained to be unhappy with how the program failed to meet its target after more than twenty years of implementation.
Conching’s sentiments further grounded the notion of property rights among women. The dream does not end with land titles, it is not just about "owning" per se, but it is about how women’s contribution to the land struggle is regarded, how women’s roles in food production is respected, how real development is realized, and how power relations are transcended.
Together with these women, our coalition - the National Rural Women Coalition (PKKK) raised policy concerns to the concerned agencies. After about a decade of lobby work, a comprehensive Administrative Order was issued (AO no.1 s. 2011) providing guidelines for gender equality in agrarian reform implementation. The overwhelming concern however is that the AO was issued at a time when there’s only about three years left for finishing the land acquisition and distribution (LAD) component.
But that’s another story and as to how it will end in 2014? We will need to hear more from the likes of Conching, Rebs and Sally.