Historically, the most labourers in agriculture soon after Zimbabwe gained independence were women yet they rarely controlled the land.
Owning land in the post-colonial era actually tended to marginalise women and reduce their commitment to agriculture.
Although the land reform programme accomplished its objective of redistributing land to black people, the internal composition of the black beneficiary population was skewed by gender.
Land reform strategies in Zimbabwe incorporated processes of exclusion, worsening social divisions.
Land allocation rules discriminated against women such that it was rare for single, divorced and widowed women to own land.
The dominant criteria for allocation of land assumed that households centred on married couples or that women would seek land within the family context.
The land was then held through registration in a permit system which did not specify the time of its validity and the man was usually the registrant.
However, advocacies by women organisations in ensuring women from all backgrounds own land saw a gradual spike in women managing their own agricultural land.
Letina Sigauke, 45, is one of the women who now owns a large farm. Being a widow at 28, with one child she had no option but to look for ways to fend for her family.
Although now popular for being one of the best female farmers and having been nominated for an award by the Zimbabwe Women in
Agriculture Organisation her road to success has not been a simple walk in the park.
“My journey has been up and down but determination has helped me to continue farming. I started farming when I was 28 years old, and that is when my husband passed on. I lost everything we had worked for and I had no choice other than farming, because I was only left with this undeveloped piece of land.
“There are a lot of challenges I faced to be where I am today. As a woman people didn’t have confidence in me, and the fact that I am a widow only made it worse.
“No one wanted to lend me money or equipment. Some unscrupulous men wanted to take advantage of me, people would come and steal because as a woman I could not defend myself.
“Some customers would call me expecting to hear a male voice, and when I told them I am the owner they would respond: What? I am sorry I have dialled the wrong number,” said Sigauke.
Sigauke’s plight mirrors many other women who wish to own land but are deprived and looked down upon because of their gender.
While the land ownership matrix since the 2000 redistribution should be applauded for altering the landscape, communal land, where patriarchal norms persist and traditional leaders determine land access, remained largely unchanged.
Emed Gunduza, a spokesperson for the Women’s Coalition of Zimbabwe (WCZ), a network of women’s rights activists and women’s organisations in one article said, the stumbling block for women in owning land and being viewed as capable of managing it was socialisation and continued beliefs of a man’s authority over women.
A December 2013 paper by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) titled, Gender Inequalities in Ownership and Control of Land in Africa: Myths versus Reality highlights that less than two percent of the world’s land is owned by women.
The paper surmises that in the absence of comprehensive data, the pattern that women own less land than men, or women who own land are not recognised as capable by society regardless of how ownership is conceptualised, is remarkably consistent. Further, in many cases, the gender gaps are quite large.
A 1993 Land Tenure Commission appointed by the late former President Robert Mugabe’s government investigating post-colonial land issues had no gender perspective in its brief, although it is estimated about 70 percent of Zimbabwean rural women were engaged in daily agricultural activities, from land preparation for planting through to post-harvest activities.
That is why in 1998, Women and Land in Zimbabwe (WLZ) was established by Thandiwe Chidavarume after the realisation, that it was important to campaign for greater land access for women and the general acceptance of women as land owners.
“We continue to lobby Government and are pushing for more than 20 percent now. With hindsight we should have asked for more from the beginning,” said Chidavarume.
Despite negative perceptions on women being capable land owners research by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) indicates that women provide the majority of sub-Saharan Africa’s agricultural produce and up to 80 percent of the regions basic foodstuffs.
It is without doubt that despite her challenges,Sigauke is one of the women immensely contributing to the country’s agricultural sector.
She farms potatoes, green mealies, sugar beans and cabbages. She also supplies chicks and all poultry needs.
“My farm is located in Kadoma Eiffel Flats, the plot size is about 12 hectares, and I grow on four hectares each crop on rotation. I sell to individuals from Victoria Falls, Hwange, Bulawayo, Gweru, Kadoma, Chegutu, Norton and Mbare Musika.
“The first year I started farming I relied on the rains and managed to score eight tonnes of sugar beans. l sold my stuff and gradually managed to install electricity and drill a borehole, and I managed to irrigate one hectare. Every time I grew a crop I would give myself a target to develop the farm. I then started to build chicken houses and a small compound. I kept working hard every month, and every year, till I fenced the farm, bought irrigation pipes, and drilled three more boreholes. I did all I could to make sure I developed the farm with my own sweat. To cut the story short I now have eight boreholes, eight permanent workers and a farm manager. I hire some casuals when in need, and I irrigate the whole farm,” she said.
Moreover, Sigauke has managed to build a house and send her son to school without borrowing money from anyone.
With her achievements in mind, this year marks 40 years of Zimbabwe’s Independence, and one cannot help but reflect on the milestones women have achieved since 1980.
In spite of patriarchal norms still embedded within society, some women are changing the status quo by taking up leadership roles which were once upon a time associated with men. Bit by bit the agricultural sector is being transformed, we are witnessing the birth of women agro-processors, women owning horticulture produce, livestock, and poultry. Women are also inventing smart agricultural machinery, and all this shows women’s diverse leadership capabilities.
It is thus important for women to continue being positive in their pursuit of leadership roles no matter the obstacles they may face.
“I want to encourage every woman out there to take agriculture as a serious business because they won’t go wrong. Farming pays well if properly done,” said Sigauke.