The World

Women Gain Inch in Push for Land Rights in Uganda

Sunday, July 20, 2003

A new amendment to the 1998 Land Act in Uganda takes a small step toward women obtaining land rights. The issue is expected to remain on the national agenda, however, as candidates for president position themselves to gain the women's vote.

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Presidential Politics May Provide an Unexpected Boost

"The proposed amendment is much more watered down, but I see it's better than nothing," responded Annet Ttendo in mid-May. As head of the Uganda Association of Women Lawyer's Advocacy Department, and as a daughter whose father left land only to her brothers, Ttendo has been frustrated by the slow progress of women's land rights. In 2002, property disputes accounted for almost 30 percent of the association's cases. Forty-eight percent involved women fighting to have fathers pay child support.

Like many, Ttendo blames co-ownership's defeat on Museveni's courting of foreign investors who prefer speedy property transactions unhampered by ownership disputes. "Here in Uganda, if the president has not agreed to something, it can not be passed into law."

However, with the 2006 elections approaching, a strong public push for a multi-party system, and a two-term limit that has to be removed by parliamentary vote if Museveni is to run, the president can not afford to completely alienate women's rights supporters. Although not all female members of parliament support co-ownership, many do and women currently make up 24.7 percent of the body. In addition, current speculation is that the recent removal and resignation of two powerful women from key posts, Minister of State for Ethics and Integrity Miria Matembe (the original sponsor of the "lost clause") and Vice President Dr. Speciosa Wandira Kazibwe, means Museveni will have to make concessions to women, such as considering a Domestic Relations Bill tabled since 1964.

"The president is not to march us into a third term without commitments," contends member of parliament Loice Bwambale. How far activists will be able to leverage the uncertain political situation to their advantage is unclear.

Meanwhile, a few women who can afford it seek remedy for lost land by going to court. In largely rural Uganda, where 55 percent live below the national poverty line and 28 percent of the population is undernourished, a small plot often provides vital sustenance. But fighting a legal battle to keep it is usually impossible. To pay for her lawyer, Ahimbisibwe says, "I am squeezing. I pay him little by little."

Taking a carefully folded sheet from her purse, she displays the plans she has drawn with the help of her son for Plot 3A Stanley Road. Her idea is to start a daycare and nursery and to build a house on the same plot. Though her case drags on frustratingly, she persists: "I'm eager to start my project."


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Nicole Leistikow, a freelance writer and news editor for, is currently based in New Delhi.

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