Less than two percent of land in Kenya issued to women despite legal gains

Nairobi (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Less than 2 percent of title deeds issued in Kenya since 2013 went to women, campaigners said on Tuesday, dashing hopes raised by constitutional reform granting them equal property rights.

Kenya’s land minister Farida Karoney said it does not yet have data on women’s land ownership, which campaigners say is key to reducing poverty and exposure to domestic violence, as well as providing collateral for loans and security in old age.

“The percentage of women owning land has not improved that much,” said Odenda Lumumba, national coordinator for the Kenya Land Alliance, an advocacy network.

“Women are not secure and are not going to invest their time and energy (in boosting farm production).”

The World Bank estimates that women run more than three-quarters of Kenya’s farms. But culture often takes precedence over the law, with men owning and controlling most of the land.

One of 17 ambitious global development goals adopted in 2015 aims to give women equal rights to economic resources, including access to land ownership and control.

Land ownership in Kenya is usually vested in fathers who customarily pass it on to their sons, making it hard for women to secure rights except through their husbands. Women and their children are often evicted if the husband dies or they divorce.

Women in the east African nation were allocated only 1.6 percent of about 10 million hectares of land that was registered between 2013 and 2017, KLA said.

It reviewed one-third of some 3 million title deeds given out since 2013, when President Uhuru Kenyatta came to power and pledged to fast track the issuance of land documents.

Many women do not know that the constitution promises to eliminate gender discrimination in law, customs and practices related to property, leaving thousands at risk of homelessness.

Karoney said the government would have sex-disaggregated data in two years, once its 61 land registries were digitized.

“The first thing, in order to improve access, is to work with data,” she told Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone.

“If data is not available, it’s difficult to make policy interventions,” said Karoney, a female journalist who was appointed lands minister last month.

The Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA), an advocacy group, has previously said that less than five percent of all land title deeds in Kenya are held jointly by women with men and only one percent of land titles in Kenya are held by women alone.