Tag Archives: Manase Chiweshe

Changing gender relations after land reform

There have been a number of excellent publications on shifts in gender relations after land reform. A piece in Agrarian South by Patience Mutopo, Jeannette Manjengwa and Manase Chiweshe, Shifting Gender Dimensions and Rural Livelihoods after Zimbabwe’s Fast-Track Land Reform Programme, reflected on work in Mwenezi, Mazowe and Chinoyi. Framed within a narrative of ‘re-peasantization’, they conclude:

“The return to the rural areas by women from every class has led to the formation of new agri-business activities among women, which has shaped new social production relations. In so doing, women have also redefined gender roles and household governance, negotiated with patriarchy in establishing niche land-based livelihoods, and created new migration patterns for themselves, where previously they had been confined to the household.”

Based on the early Utete audit report of 2003, only 18 percent of farms in A1 and 12 percent of farms in A2 are held by women. But, as the paper shows, this does not tell the whole story of access. The negotiation of access to land and land-related businesses in the context of patriarchal marriage and community relations has been possible for many (see earlier blogs on this theme, here and here).

Based on research in Mazowe and Goromonzi, Manase Chiweshe, Loveness Chakona and Kirk Heilliker argue in a paper in the Journal of Asian and African Studies that:

“…radical socio-spatial reorganisation such as fast track may destabilise systems of patriarchy. In the case of fast track, there has been a reconfiguration of relations between men and women yet this is uneven and contradictory and remains within the confines of patriarchal structures, practices and discourses. At the same time, women have manoeuvred and negotiated at local levels to enhance their lives and livelihoods.”

Patience Mutopo’s important book, based on extensive fieldwork in Mwenezi, shows this very well, documenting the importance of new migration and trading routes for women, who with access to land (often formally held by husbands) are investing in agricultural and livestock production in this extremely dry part of the country.

In a more recent paper in Africa Review, Sandra Bhatasara and Manase Chiweshe argue that there is a need to go ‘beyond gender’ and the fixation on the survey figures on land holding status. Proposing an ‘intersectionality’ and ‘agency’ perspective, they argue that multiple dimensions of difference interact to determine access, and women, even in constrained settings, can exert agency using a range of approaches, overt and more hidden. It is an approach focused on social relations rather than social status or categories that is advocated. They argue:

“Whilst women appear losers as portrayed in many studies, was it only gender that determined access? What about age, nationality, class, political affiliation and traditional roots among other aspects? How did the 18% quoted in several studies get land? What about married women in this debate? Were women just victims in the FTLRP?”

They conclude that land access needs to be understood within an intersectionality framework, arguing that “women were not merely victims but used versatile tactics and strategies to get land”.

This focus on agency, social relations and multiple, intersecting dimensions of difference seems an important step forward in the on-going debate about gender and land reform, moving beyond the numbers game to a focus on processes by which land access is gained. It does not make the case that all is well. Zimbabwean rural society is extremely patriarchal, with women often excluded and subject to violence, but it opens up more opportunities beyond a victimhood narrative.

This is the sixth in a series of short reviews of new work on agriculture and land in Zimbabwe. Nearly all of these studies are by Zimbabwean researchers, reflecting the growing research capacity and ability to comment on important issues of policy in the post-Mugabe era. If there are other papers or books that you think should be included, please let me know!

This post was written by Ian Scoones and first appeared on Zimbabweland

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Gender relations and land reform in Zimbabwe

What have been the consequences of Zimbabwe’s land reform for agrarian gender relations? This is a crucial question. If land reform was aimed at addressing historical racial imbalances in land ownership, has it also challenged gender inequalities?

Surveys have shown how many women gained land in their own right (and were granted ‘offer letters’). Between 15 and 20 percent of new A1 plots are recorded as controlled by women. With inheritance of land, this may have increased marginally over time. The pattern in A2 areas was even more skewed to male control, with only around 10 percent being controlled by women; although transfers have been higher through inheritance in these farms.

Based simply on these figures, the record of land reform in addressing gender inequalities is poor. However, such assessments say nothing about the effects of land reform on gender relations, and the power, influence and control of assets of men and women in rural society. New work suggests contrasting interpretations, and interesting dynamics.

Some researchers have argued that land reform has opened up spaces of opportunity for women, whereby new livelihoods can be pursued, and a greater economic independence realised. This view has been emphasised by Patience Mutopo in her excellent study of women in a new resettlement area in Mwenezi district, in the dry south of the country. Access to land – often portions of husbands’ fields – provided the route to building new trading enterprises. Mutopo traced the economic and social linkages that resettlement women created. It is a fascinating story, now written up in a book. It shows that economic and social empowerment does not have to come through the formal allocation of land to women, but many women are able to negotiate access to resources within existing marriage and other institutions, and make very good use of these opportunities. She argues that women ‘can have remarkable bargaining power in certain domains’. She shows how new livelihood activities, notably trading involving travel away from the rural home, have meant changed gender relations. When women travel, husbands must take on domestic caring roles, including cooking and childcare. And with increased incomes, women may be the ones offering cash to their home-bound husbands when they return.

In a paper in Agrarian South by Mutopo, together with Jeanette Manjengwa and Manase Chiweshe, a series of cases are offered that show women accumulating in their own right. In the higher potential zones, agricultural production on the new resettlements was providing income that was being invested in school fees, home development as well as farming inputs. In the drier parts of the country, the cases showed women adopting more diversified livelihoods, including the use of natural resources for craft making and trading. Such patterns of accumulation are assisted through forms of collective organisation by women, facilitating trading, gaining access to markets or providing mutual aid to help out with domestic activities. Such new relations among women provide a basis for solidarity, assistance and economic organisation maximising the opportunities of the land reform, they argue.

In our work in Masvingo province we found a diversity of patterns across sites. New gender relations were being negotiated within households, as women gained economic independence and control over resources, separate from men. Simply having larger farms, and a greater level of production and income means that divisions of labour have shifted, with separate enterprises created, with different responsibilities. While in communal area homes, women have often managed to create some form of independence – growing their own vegetables, buying their own goats – the room for manoeuvre is limited, and with less income to hire labour from outside, women are often restricted to social reproductive activities, and providing labour for efforts controlled by men.

Those women who highlighted the benefits of land reform most enthusiastically in our study areas were those who had been marginalised and ostracised in their previous homes. These included single women, divorcees, and those who – for a range of reasons – had become outcasts in their communities, often targeted as ‘witches’. The land reform areas offered a space outside restrictive, discriminatory, sometimes dangerous settings from where they came. For such women, these were genuinely liberated spaces.

However, others have highlighted that there are severe limits to such liberation. In a recent paper Manase Chiweshe, Loveness Chanoka and Kirk Helliker ask, based on data from Mazowe and Goromonzi, whether radical socio-spatial reorganisations such as fast-track land reform can destabilise forms of domination such as patriarchy. They conclude that patriarchy is so entrenched and the fast-track programme is ‘highly masculinized’, very often limiting opportunities. Bargaining with patriarchy, they argue, has limits. They quote one woman in Goromonzi who comments:

“The household setup is not fair, as men have full control of cash crops and as we women … are responsible for crops that are mainly for family consumption for example round nuts. The unfair part of it is, even if as women we sell surplus ‘women crops’, men’s hands will be seen when monies get on the table. That is the reason why we also engage ourselves in other non-agricultural income-generating activities in a bid to widen our income base”.

When so-called ‘customary law’ becomes extended into new resettlement areas women can become especially disadvantaged. In the early days of land occupation and the beginning of the fast-track programme, the new resettlements – as the old resettlements – were outside customary control, organised through Committees of Seven, linked to political and administrative structures. However over time, as Chiefs and headmen have exerted authority over the new resettlements, hybrid institutional arrangements have emerged.

In areas of land and inheritance in particular an increasing influence of patriarchal customary systems are observed. As Prosper Matondi comments in his 2012 book, the land reform ‘has perpetuated the customary property rights in favour of men’. The implementation of new A1 permits may have helped to reverse some of this trend, as the more detailed permits now replacing ‘offer letters’ require both men and women to be named, and thus specify inheritance rights for women. This provides some protection of the imposition of ‘customary’ rules that frequently result of land and assets being taken by male relatives on the death of a husband.

As Chiweshe and colleagues point out, the burdens of social reproduction continue to fall substantially on women in the new resettlements. But in these new settings, the challenges may well have increased, with the lack of basic infrastructure. The distance to clinics for example can be substantial, and similarly water collection distances may be longer than in their former homes. While investments have occurred, these have been slow and limited, and most resettlement areas have few facilities.

There are thus highly contradictory effects resulting from land reform on gender relations. As Chiweshe and colleagues conclude “[al]though in large part insensitive to the land needs and rights of women, in some ways fast track nevertheless improved – albeit inadvertently – the lives of A1 women… Despite the prevalence of patriarchy as an intertwined system of structures and practices, women have sought to identify and open up gaps and pursue new activities as they manoeuvre their way..”.

It is this active agency, involving negotiation, bargaining and generating creative solutions, that comes across strongly in these studies. While the power imbalances are clear, and gender discrimination widespread, this does not mean that women always lose out.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and originally appeared on Zimbabweland

 

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