CESCRA, ULA and GI-ESCR express dissatisfaction at the stance that the government of Uganda is taking towards the protection of Women’s land and property rights.
Uganda is a state party to the International Covenant on Economic Social Cultural Rights (ICESCR) - a multilateral treaty adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 16th December 1966, in force from 3rd January 1976; Uganda ratified in 1987. ICESCR is part of the International Bill of Human Rights, along with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).
By ratifying this covenant, the government of Uganda committed herself to work towards the granting of economic social cultural rights (ESCR) to all Ugandans including the right to quality education, right health, labour rights, right to adequate housing including women’s land and property rights. Under the ICESCR system of reporting, every state party is expected to submit her report on the status of the ESCR situation to UN Human Right Council every 4 years upon ratification. In June 2015, Uganda submitted her second report since 1987 and it was reviewed on 19th June 2015, together with Kyrgyzstan, Venezuela, Mongolia, Thailand, Ireland and Chile.
During the process of reporting, CESCRA, ULA, AND GI-ESCR jointly submitted a detailed parallel report to the United Nations Committee on ESCR that highlighted the main issues which currently affect women’s land and property rights in Uganda. And in that parallel report, we clearly brought out specific issues of discrimination of women in the area of ownership, access and control over land and property that included the following;
Inequality in ownership, access and control of land: This in general is one of the drivers of persisting gender equality in Uganda. Historical injustices, negative cultural practices, attitude and perception continue to deny women the right to own, access and control land and property on the same basis as men. Uganda’s legal pluralism system gives full recognition of customary laws, but clearly limits it to the extent of its consistency with written laws. Alternative justice systems administered by traditional leaders and largely used by rural communities do not necessarily run on tenets of the written laws and are not in any way aligned with the state legal system. Women find it very difficult to equally access justice on matters related to land and property and cases brought before traditional leaders are likely to be insensitive of women’s rights to land and accommodate negative attitude and perception that hold the notion that women do not own property and that male spouses are the head of household who in fact are supposed to control land and property while women are considered as helpers.
Continued discrimination of women on land and property ownership is compounded by lack of education. Many women are unaware of the rights they have; the government and different stakeholders have come up with plausible measures to create awareness through mobilization and sensitization, however owing to the schedules and budgets these activities are given, women who need these activities the most, benefit the least. For example lack of knowledge of laws and general understanding of women’s rights in Regions where Oil and Gas activities have affected women in the area of displacement, forceful evictions and unequal compensation and have further increased women’s vulnerability and land rights violations.
Widows and young girls in Uganda continue to be deprived of property due to persistent disinheritance practices and lack of strong legal basis to protect them. Under customary practices, women are being discriminated against and being treated unequally to men in violation of both Article 2(2) and Article 3 of the ICESCR. By failure to legislate on very vital family laws such as the marriage, divorce and review of succession laws, the state has legally failed to eradicate the negative cultural practices that disadvantage women in the area of land, inheritance and property rights in Uganda.
Specific Recommendations and Highlights from the Committee on Economic Social Cultural Rights (CESCR) Concluding Observation to Uganda Government – June 2015
12. The Committee is concerned that many persons remain without a formal ownership title over their house and land, and about the persistence of land disputes exacerbated by overlapping claims and rights over land. The Committee is also concerned at the delays in amending the 1998 Land Act, with a view to protecting in particular the rights to access to, and own, land by women, pastoralists and customary land owners, including communities. The Committee is further concerned about the inadequate implementation of the Land Policy (art. 1).
The Committee recommends that the State party harmonize its legal framework governing land rights and that all land related laws, notably the Land Act and the Forest Act, are amended also in light of the 2013 Land Policy which provides additional protection to customary land owners and to indigenous peoples’ right to land. The State party should also take measures to effectively implement this Policy, including through allocation of the necessary resources. The Committee refers in this regard to the Voluntary Guidelines on the responsible governance of tenure of land, fisheries and forests in the context of national food security, adopted in 2012 by the Committee on World Food Security of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
Women land rights and Extractive industries
14. The Committee is concerned about increasing incidents of land grabbing in the State party due to extraction activities. The Committee is concerned that oil and gas extraction as well as mining activities are carried out without prior and meaningful consultation with communities whose lands lay beneath these projects. It is also concerned about the disproportionate effect land grabbing has on women and customary land owners (art. 1).
The Committee recommends that the State party strengthen the legal framework governing extraction and mining activities. It urges the State party to always enter into prior and meaningful consultations with the concerned communities before granting concessions for the economic exploitation of the lands, and fulfil the obligation to obtain their free, prior and informed consent, including and in particular of women and customary land owners. The Committee also recommends that the State party guarantee that in no case will such exploitation violate the rights recognized in the Covenant and that just and fair compensation is granted to concerned communities. It should also ensure that these activities as well as the resources generated bring about tangible benefits to the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights by the population.
Equality between men and women
18. The Committee is concerned about the existence of sex-based discriminatory provisions in the State party’s legislation, including the Succession Act, the Divorce Act and the Marriage Code. It is also concerned about the long delay in the adoption of the Marriage and Divorce Bill. Furthermore, the Committee is concerned about the persistence of patriarchal attitudes and deep-rooted stereotypes regarding the roles and responsibilities of women and men in all spheres of life, which prevents women from owning lands, contributes to the limited political participation of women, and deepens the occupational sex segregation and the concentration of women in low-paid sectors (art. 3).
Recalling its general comment No. 16 (2005) on the equal right of men and women to the enjoyment of all economic, social and cultural rights, the Committee recommends that the State party:
(a) Step up its efforts to achieve legislative reform, and to this end abolish, as a matter of priority, all the remaining discriminatory provisions against women in its national laws;
(b) Intensify its efforts to adopt the Marriage and Divorce Bill without further delay, and raise awareness among the judiciary, prosecutors, the police and the general public about the provisions of these laws once adopted to ensure their full implementation; and
(c) Take effective measures, including through implementation of the National Gender Policy, to eliminate traditional practices and stereotypes that discriminate against women and raise awareness of this subject, targeting women and men at all levels of society, including traditional and religious leaders, in collaboration with civil society.
Values and Commitments
- Equality of all persons including gender equality and social inclusion
- Transparency and accountability in all levels of engagements
- Participation of all levels of society
- Engagement through mutual dialogue
- Respect for all voices of society and actors
- Models of excellence in all CESCRA undertakings