property rights and livelihoods in the era of AIDS
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Mataka, UN Special Envoy on AIDS
November 29, 2007
At the Third
World Conference on Women, 1984, Mwalimu Julius Nyerere said:
in Africa toil all their lives on land. Women in Africa toil all
their lives on land that they do not own, to produce what they do
not control, and at the end of the marriage, through divorce or
death, they can be sent away empty-handed"
Ladies and Gentlemen,
it is a privileged to be here today as one of the special guest
speakers on the subject of women's property and inheritance
rights in the context of AIDS.
We are here
today because of the intersections of two major issues confronting
African countries and African citizens: 1) An AIDS epidemic that
is ravaging communities, particularly in Southern Africa; and 2)
the serious consequences of gender inequality which denies many
women access to economic means and in particular access to land
and property on the death of husbands and fathers.
dollars are spent on poverty reduction, on AIDS, TB, and Malaria,
but most of these funds do not focus on empowering women or even
on addressing their needs and their realities. Unless we empower
women, really empower them by putting resources, building capacities
and ensuring legal protection, our efforts to address poverty, nutrition,
AIDS will have very limited success."
shows us that a special focus on women is critical:
We need not
look further than the AIDS epidemic update released last week.
Although the update showed that the epidemic is leveling off and
in some cases declining, it illustrated that nothing has changed
for women. Women still account for 60% of all HIV infected adults
living in sub-Saharan Africa (UNAIDS 2007).
A recent study
conducted in Botswana and Swaziland highlighted the link between
poverty and sexual risk taking. It showed that poverty and insufficient
food significantly influenced the decision of whether to use condoms
among female sex workers; it showed that women with insufficient
food had over 80% higher odds of reporting intergenerational sex;
it linked insufficient food with a woman's lack of control
in their sexual relationships - increasing the odds of selling
sex for money or resources.
who are malnourished or under-nourished have heightened risk of
HIV infection due to the effects of malnutrition on the immune system.
The dire evidence
continues, but underpinning it is the reality that food security
and HIV are interlinked. Intervening at the level of food insecurity
is not just the right thing to do, it can play an important role
in HIV prevention.
Conversely, we cannot talk about HIV prevention without talking
about addressing issues of poverty and economic independence for
me to my next point on property grabbing that is a common, culturally
embedded practice in my region of the world. There are many stories,
indeed too many of stories, of property grabbing from women. But
emerging from these stories are inspiring initiatives by women and
men, at the community level, coming together to stop property grabbing
in their communities. These community heroes have shown us that
it is possible to stop property grabbing.
Not only at
the community level are people addressing property grabbing, but
increasingly governments in my region are making good progress in
reforming legislation to protect the inheritance rights of women.
For instance in Zimbabwe, the Administration of Estates Amendment
1997 aimed at giving women in customary marriage the right to inherit
from their husband. In my country Zambia, the intestate Succession
Act of 1989 was introduced to end property-grabbing in cases where
a deceased spouse has not left a written will. Its amendment in
1996 provides for inheritance rights of multiple wives and it illegalized
eviction of surviving spouse from the matrimonial home. In Tanzania,
1999 Land Act declared that women have the same rights as men to
acquire, own and deal in land.
But the implementation
of these laws has not been easy. Many women, and communities, are
not aware of the new laws, or of their rights. In some instances
where women do know their rights, the law is often inaccessible
to regular citizens. Investments must be made to ensure laws become
an actual reality for women and communities.
We need to also
talk about the cultural traditions that perpetuate land grabbing.
There is strong resistance to women's land and property ownership.
There is a fear that this may upset cultural traditions and that
for the interest of the family as a whole, it is better if land
and property is not registered in the woman's name.
This must stop.
Property grabbing from women must end. We need to support the work
of community organizations, talk to women, their husbands, their
brothers, sisters and parents in law. We need to listen to what
they say and work together to find better solutions for this issue.
cultural practices and promoting women's economic empowerment
and independent rights to land and property can only strengthen
families - additionally it is a mechanism with which we can
start to change the direction of the AIDS epidemic.
As the UN Special
Envoy on AIDS, women's empowerment is a priority area for
me in my capacity as Special Envoy. I will advocate on behalf of
women and I will work closely with governments to ensure that legislation
is not only reformed to protect women, but that it is also implemented.
I am committed
to working towards ensuring that my mothers and sisters and daughters
are toiling on land that they own, controlling what they produce,
and will never be sent away empty handed.
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