For many women in the areas where we work, owning land doesn't seem like an option. Our change agents are proof that not only is it possible, but it is key to economic independence.
Where we work in the Democratic Republic of Congo, restrictive gender norms, exacerbated by poverty, limit women’s ability to buy their own land.
Many of the women who enroll in our Stronger Women, Stronger Nations Program have not completed formal education and lack a stable income, as well as access to banking to make savings. This, coupled with gender discrimination, means that women rarely own their own land, in their own name - limiting their opportunities for investment, securing their children's futures, and improving their status within the community.
As part of our program, women are supported to form Village Savings and Loan Associations (VSLAs) – self-managed groups that allow members to save and invest money by buying shares. Women can then take out small loans from the savings pot to grow their businesses or put towards an investment. Women in our program are also taught about their rights and decision-making. This covers issues from family planning and domestic abuse, to the right to vote, to inheritance and to land ownership.
Three of our program graduates, Gorette, Furaha and Gentille, have defied societal norms and bought their own land. Now, they are helping other women to do the same.
Since graduating from our year-long program, Gorette, Furaha and Gentille have gone on to become advocates in their communities. Now enrolled in our Change Agents Program, they are strengthening their leadership and advocacy skills to help other women find economic and social empowerment as they have, and to encourage men and community leaders to support women in their business endeavors and investments.
Read Gorette, Furaha and Gentille's stories below, where they share how they became landowners, the challenges they faced and their advice to other women following in their footsteps.
I was among the first women in my community to join Women for Women International’s program. With the monthly stipend, we started our own savings group. It allowed me to start a small business, which made me the money I used to buy the land I own today. It is registered in my name.
When I bought this land, I did not face any barrier from my husband because we had already discussed and agreed. The only barrier I faced was from my family. They thought that when I bought my own land, it meant I was planning to leave my husband. I have children from another man and people started saying I bought it for my two children from a previous relationship. But with my husband’s support, I was calm. I did not care about the community - I had an understanding with my husband, so no one could make it an issue.
Neighbors want to grab my land but I have the legal documents so I am covered. I used to have other land but it was sold by my husband without my consent. He cannot sell this land where we live today – I am safe because it has my name on the document.
"When you own land as a woman you cannot be discriminated against... I am feeling respected, strong, and protected."
Once a woman becomes economically empowered and contributes to household revenue, you are more valuable. Having this land means I can get a loan because I have something valuable to trade with, and I can rent the land for business or agriculture usage.
Women should always make savings to be economically independent. They should buy their own land because if they depend on men to provide everything, they will remain discriminated against. I hope men will allow their women to do their business freely - it contributes to the development of a household, and it gives respect to women.
When I joined Women for Women International’s program, we were given a monthly stipend and taught to save every month in a group. After 12 months of saving, I got my share of 216,000 FC (~80 GBP). My neighbor was selling part of his land. I went to talk to him and he agreed to sell it to me for 300,000 FC (~110 GBP).
Because of the savings I made, plus some money from my maize selling business and a loan from my friend, I managed to collect enough money in total.
Here, when you buy land from someone, you must sign a bill of sale in your name, which binds both buyer and seller. We learnt about these things in the Stronger Women, Stronger Nations Program, so I now have a legal document to prove my ownership.
But it wasn't without challenges, starting with my husband. He said it was okay to buy the land but he wanted it to be registered in his name, not mine. Since I had already written the agreement document in my name, I told him it was for our family, especially for our children. Later, one of my neighbors tried to grab a piece of my land. I went to a local leader to settle the dispute and it was okay because I showed them the document proving the remit of my land.
"For me, the big advantage of having my land is to have a place to leave for my children, to prepare for my children’s futures."
People say “women cannot buy land; women cannot own land” - but I bought it, even if it was a challenge.
I have 3 boys and 2 girls – the only thing I can leave them is land. I have bought another piece of land for my son, the oldest, and I will keep buying for all of them until they all have land to live on and with their own name on the documents.
Men must please stop selling their household land without consulting their wives. I ask men to buy more land rather than trading it for beer and finishing the family money by drinking.
I acquired my land before Women for Women International’s program started in Nyangezi. The way I acquired it was by selling pigs, goats and agriculture products (such as beans and cassava) harvested in my field. I have been living here for more than 14 years. The Stronger Women, Stronger Nations Program helped me save money with my group. It helped me to build the current house I am living in.
I was the one in charge of the building process. It required paying the workers and purchasing steel sheets and other construction materials. Currently, I am building another house on the same land and the funds came from my current savings group, as well as my business working in a small store.
I did not go through many barriers when I bought land because I was unmarried. For me, living in this community where polygamy is widespread, and women are left by their husbands and children, having this land is important.
"The land value was $60 when I bought it. I believe the current value is $600."
Women who managed to buy were considered rich and 'shindikana' (meaning 'rude') but some women are now regretting not taking that step.