Landesa: Northern Uganda & Women’s Rights to Land

It is late afternoon in Parwech, northern Uganda, and a sizeable crowd has gathered under a large banyan tree. The community has come together this afternoon to discuss an important issue- women’s land rights in northern Uganda. The facilitator asks the crowd: how many among you have experienced some problem over land?

All hands go up.

It is no surprise. The decades-long war that ended in 2006 displaced nearly two million people and stalled development in this area of northern Uganda. Since 2006, people have gradually returned from displacement, and have set about the work of rebuilding their communities. These efforts to develop the region are challenged, however, by ongoing conflict over land.

An elderly woman stands up and addresses the crowd. “After the conflict, I came back to my village with my children. At first, my family welcomed me, but after a while, they gave me problems and told me to go away from here. They said there was no place for me on my family’s land – but where can I go?” Amid murmuring agreement, others share their experiences and concerns. The issue of land touches everyone, and is fundamental to the daily lives and livelihoods of this rural community.

Other women then share their stories. While each woman’s story differs in its details, a common theme is clear – women have highly insecure rights to the land they depend on to survive.

Land conflict is widely recognized as a major problem in this area of northern Uganda known as Acholiland, where an estimated 90% of land is administered under customary rules, and almost all rural land is held communally. Though Ugandan law grants authority to the customary system, decades of conflict have fractured the households, communities, and institutions that make that system work. Moreover, these customary rules are not consistent, are not codified, and are unevenly upheld by a traditional leadership whose authority has been eroded by the conflict, and by a larger context of land grabbing and land speculation, leaving the population – and women in particular – vulnerable in the face of uncertainty over land rights.

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Photo courtesy of Landesa