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Community sensitization in Seme Sub county Kit Mikai social hall, Kisumu County, Kenya on 18th Feb 2021
Uhai Lake Forum - a member of Kenya Nile Discourse Forum (KNDF) organized a community sensitization forum in Nyakach, Seme, and Kisumu central sub-counties to disseminate findings from the desk review report for baseline information on women and people with disabilities; on land rights and environmental issues affecting their access to justice during the COVID 19 pandemic.

The objectives of the sensitization were to share the findings from the desktop review report with the community, and to identify challenges experienced by women and people with disabilities in access to justice and property rights linked to environment and natural resources.

Key issues emerged from the discussions:

Women rarely have any land in their names, making them very vulnerable in the case of divorce or 'widowhood'. In the likelihood that they are disinherited, they are left with no means of production and sustenance.  The treatment of women as users and not owners of family property has increased their vulnerability through the instances of denial of their customary rights to be joint beneficiaries of family property. This has an impact in gender development within the affected areas leading to inequitable development.

In many communities women's access to, use and control of land is largely determined by their marital status and in the case of 'widowhood', to their relationship with male members of the immediate family of the deceased husband.  Many studies that have been done across the country to determine the cultural practices on land ownership, inheritance and property rights depict how women bear the brunt of negative cultural practices, that continue to support male inheritance of family land to the detriment of the women’s rights.  Women are regarded as belonging neither to the homes into which they were born, nor to those into which they are married. This leaves them out of the inheritance cycle both ways. Underlying this is the very absence of women in the traditional justice mechanism as witnesses or judges in this.

Challenges experienced by women and PLWDs in access to justice linked to Environment and Natural Resources:

The challenges identified in the forum that hinder access to property by women and PLWDs include: negative cultural practices that gives men more prominence, lack of awareness by women, discriminatory official responses by male government officials, stigmatization of persons living with disabilities, corruption by the administrators, introduction of online courts due to COVID_19 pandemic, discrimination encouraged by law, lack of participation by women, fear and expensive legal system.

Conclusion:

Women’s access to land determines not only women’s and households’ level of living and livelihood, but also food security. Due to the existing obstacles, women’s property rights are abused and they are therefore impoverished by lack of access to land and property.

Culture evolves, and as important as culture is, if they are a source of discrimination against women, they must evolve.  This is crucial not only for the sake of women’s equality, but because there are real social consequences to depriving half the population of their property rights. Women’s insecure property rights contribute to low agricultural production, food shortages, underemployment, and rural poverty.

If Kenya is to meet its development aims, it must address the property inequalities that hold women back.

Author:
Tom Onyango
National Technical Support Expert/ Kenya

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