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'Her land, her rights' a remedy for climate crisis

 Mary Mutisya at her sorghum farm in Muthetheni Ward, Machakos County during a tour by Global Centre on Adaptation amid efforts in combating the challenges of climate change using digital technology in farming on January 29, 2023. [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

A recent experience sharing conference featuring East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) Project Affected Persons (PAPs) brought to Nairobi some of the most outspoken victims.

One experience shared was of a family offered money in exchange for their four acres of land, to pave the way for EACOP, the controversial heated crude oil pipeline expected to run 1,443km from Uganda to Tanga Port.

The family rejected cash compensation and chose relocation, in which case land equivalent to what they had would be bought and a new house constructed.

Things however changed drastically. The man secretly accepted cash from government. He consulted no one. Nobody even knew how much he got, and whether it was the land's worth. He built a tiny house at the new smaller location before poverty knocked.

Women in these cases were not part of decisions on how the very land they tilled and occupied would be used. When poverty began to identify everyone in the family by name and starvation was imminent, those same women were expected to provide solutions. Some went into debts.

Land use determines food security, water and air quality. Exclusion of women in matters of land minimises locally-led climate action, which is crucial in taming drought such as the one witnessed in the Horn of Africa in 2022.

The audacity with which a father sells family land, squanders the money returns home, demanding food and money to even shave his beards is beyond entitlement.

At a cousin's burial in Homa Bay last year, I encountered sand harvesting inside homes. None of those women I spoke to seemed to wield any power to say no to mining and selling of sand, even if they wanted. Still, despite contributing labour, the men decided what, if any, to share with them. Many were afraid of their husbands.

Traditional, deep rooted stereotyping among men is partly to blame for such acts. A recent study by Global Boyhood Initiative, dubbed "The State of UK Boys" stresses the need for boys to be trained early to ignore gender stereotypes and be open about their feelings to embrace healthy masculinity. "From sexual harassment and gender-based violence, to the gender pay gap and relationship breakdown, the attitudes and behaviour of boys and men are hugely influential," one of the report's authors says.

Consciously overcoming the stereotypes and willingly investing in women's equal access to land and other assets is an investment in their future and humanity's wellbeing likely to come through land restoration and drought resilience efforts. Without sounding like men are clueless on more rewarding uses of land, it is good to remember women are disproportionately affected by effects of climate change such as drought and flooding. They should therefore be actively involved in seeking solutions to the current climate crisis.

A former boss, Woka Nyagwoka, once shared that it is safer to have your wife in charge of property because if you die first, your children are safe. If she does, then the man repossesses the property.

Property experts may disagree, but nothing magical will happen if we do not try. Let more women access land not only through the market, but also through marriage and inheritance. According to Centre for Global Development, only 30 per cent of women in Sub-Saharan Africa own land, and with limitations. As the world celebrates the "Day Against Desertification and Drought", let's test, taste and see how a woman can use "Her land, her rights" to tackle the climate crisis.

This also calls for more women's seats at decision making tables, guided by less restrictive policies and anti-chauvinism.

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