Tanzania's proposed constitution empowers women to own land

Wed Oct 8, 2014 11:42am EDT
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By Kizito Makoye

DAR ES SALAAM Tanzania (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Sakina Mzava was still mourning the loss of her husband when her father-in-law kicked her out of her marital home in Vikindu village in Tanzania’s Coast Region. He also told her to hand over a piece of land she had been using to grow crops.

“I was heartbroken, but I had no other choice than to let it go. I thought it was probably the end of my life too,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Customary law in the village in Mkuranga district dictates that women gain access to land through their male partners or relatives, and after the death of Mzava’s husband three years ago, his family turned hostile.

Her brothers-in-law accused her of causing the death of her husband, who passed away after a short illness, in order to inherit family property and a farm.

“I had to flee with my children and seek shelter at my sister’s home,” said the 35-year-old mother of two. “They took everything.”

Tanzania’s proposed new constitution - handed over to the president on Wednesday - offers fresh hope to women in a similar situation as it contains language spelling out clearly for the first time that women have the same rights to own and use land as men.

Mzava, who was married under a customary arrangement, lost virtually everything because such marriages are not registered, meaning she is unlikely to regain her property.

Mzava’s story represents the plight of many rural women in Tanzania who, despite shouldering the bulk of family responsibilities, end up with nothing if they divorce or their spouses die.   Continued...