African women also deserve to be landowners

A woman working on a farm (Photo credit:

Across the African continent, millions of people live out of their farm activities. African women, who are the backbones of their communities, are overwhelmingly found in large numbers within the agricultural sector.

If you've any doubt, I invite you to take a tour of a local African market to see the number of women who are selling goods there. For many, this may be common sense to see women selling food items at the local market. The question is: Do rural women actually benefit from their hard work in the agricultural section?

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) provided an online fact sheet titled "Women, agriculture, and development" for Cameroon. In this 1992 fact sheet, different points are highlighted such as the importance of agriculture in the Cameroonian economy.

 Since the laws regarding women can be discriminatory in some countries, it's important to note that the Cameroonian government secured women's rights in the matter of land ownership. In fact, FAO stated that Cameroon signed the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in 1983 and acceded to it in 1994. Therefore, the Cameroonian Constitution guarantees equality between women and men, and the civil law provides equal rights in the areas of inheritance, credit, and employment.

All this sounds great. However, tradition and customs often discriminate against girls and women. Only boys and men have land rights. There is a graph that illustrates the importance of agriculture to the economy of Cameroon.

Further, the fact sheet also refers to the role of Cameroonian women in the agricultural sector. FAO estimated that Cameroonian rural women supply about 90% of the food needed for the overall population. Women are also involved in the production of cash crop, dedicating 6 to 8 hours in addition to their household work. According to FAO, women headed 20% of rural households.

When it comes to the division of labor, rural women work 1.5 to 3 times longer than rural men. FAO reported that men work mainly in the cash crop sector, and they are primarily responsible for fishing and livestock. On the other hand, women bear the entire responsibility for food production and help me with land preparation, harvesting and other work in the cash crops.

As if they were not doing enough, the fact sheet reported that women are in charge of fish processing and marketing, raising poultry and small livestock. They share in the processing of milk products, both for home consumption and for sale. In addition, women are responsible for all domestic tasks, including the collection of fuelwood and water.

Earthjournalism reported that a 2013 Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI) identified African women farmers as the most disenfranchised in spite of their numerical strength. Only two percent of Cameroonian women own land even though they produce 80% of  Cameroon's need, according to the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development.

Agoh Mary is a successful commercial rice farmer in Ndop in the North West of Cameroon. According to Earthjournalism, Agoh is a happy woman because she owns her land. Agoh's case is encouraging. However, more still needs to be done across the Republic of Cameroon and the African continent for women farmers.

As stated above, the Cameroon law may grant women the rights to access land but local customs and tradition prevent them to own land. The male child is still perceived as the rightful heir to the family's properties. Therefore, parents (fathers and mothers alike) often leave out their daughters out of the picture whenever inheritance is distributed. Actually, women are at an early age that since they will get married and leave their parents' homes, they shouldn't think about any inheritance. Whatever their future husbands will own will become theirs. Their brothers will take care of family business. The irony is that most African families are ready to remind their daughters and sisters-in-law that they have limited or no rights into their sons or brothers' finances and properties.

Husbands and family members will rather grant land ownership to a male child rather than the mother or a female child. The situation is still happening in 2018. This is alarming because land ownership is associated to financialy stability and women are already given way too much to their families and communities. The least they can do to themselves is to make sure their daughters are not left out as they've been. As described above, Cameroonian women are heavily involved in the food production of the country. Rightfully so, they should own their lands.


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