After undergoing training on how to farm with the crops best adapted to the soil of her region, Kenyan farmer Tabitha Karimi was excited at the prospect of increasing the productivity of the six-acre farm she works alongside her husband. But when she told her husband of her proposed changes, Karimi said, he told her that he would not let himself be controlled by the wife he had “bought” with a dowry.
With the passage of Kenya’s 2010 constitution, women now have the right to own and inherit land. Practically speaking, however, experts say that women’s status in the country is much the same as ever — in part, perhaps, because cultural attitudes are so ingrained that many Kenyans remain unaware or indifferent to the fact that women now have equal land rights.
“In African culture, a woman has no say when it comes to property. Her views aren’t valid and cannot therefore influence a man’s decision in any way,” explained David Mugambi, a natural resource management expert at Chuka University. “Even at the household level, a woman cannot own a cow, a goat or a sheep … she has no collateral when it comes to a loan guarantee as she isn’t even the legal owner of the farm.”
According to Nathan Njagi, a social services worker in Tharaka, only six percent of women in the region own land — despite women accounting for more than 80 percent of the rural population whose livelihood depends on land. Unable to access loans and exert control over family resources, women have no choice but to accept the decisions made by their husbands or male relatives — even when the decisions are disastrous.
Karimi, at least, remains optimistic that her husband will eventually come around to her point of view. “My husband may not be buying the idea now,” she said, “but I am sure that in the near future he will.”
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