The stories of Aulérie and Zawadi show the powerful contribution of secure land tenure and rights for women on the way to gender equality. On this International Women's Day, their stories serve as reminder and plaidoyer for women’s right to land to be protected and respected, throughout.
After one of those downpours that Burundi is so familiar with, the grass and leaves look greener, and the ground is soft. While Aulérie is cultivating her small cornfield in Muyinga province in the North of Burundi with determination, she is worried that she might not be able to harvest the corn when the time comes.
“I am afraid that my brothers in-law will take this property away from me” she explains.
It would not be the first time that this happens to Aulérie. When she returned from neighbouring Tanzania in 2017, the mother of six who had just lost her husband discovered that her in-laws sold part of the family property and started working a field that belonged to her and her children.
Aurelie goes on to explain her legal battle to regain the land title: “I spent three years in court to fight the situation and eventually the court ruled in my favor.”
In Burundi, access to land is not only crucial for housing needs, but for agricultural activities, which support about 90 percent of the Burundian population. It is thus not surprising that cases relating to access to land and housing constitute more than 70 percent of the cases brought before the courts in the country.
Households that are unable to access and secure land are exposed to limited livelihood opportunities and are at a higher risk of eviction, which in turn leads to exacerbated protection risks such as human trafficking and gender-based violence (GBV). These risks are particularly relevant for internally displaced persons (IDPs), returnees and women-led households.
For Aulérie, regardless of the court’s ruling, the issue was not ultimately settled: “Everyone got their plot, and I received my husband's inheritance. But even so, the brothers of my late husband still want to take over my property. They think they can take everything from me.”
Land inheritance customs follow a patriarchal model, and legal housing, land and property rights are seldom known, particularly in the rural areas. As such, women, even if legally married like Aulérie are often exposed to vulnerabilities. These challenges are further enhanced in cases were women become widowers, leaving them to lead the household by themselves and engage in lengthy processes to claim the land and property that they are rightfully entitled to after their husband’s death.
Considering the legal ordeal Aulérie went through in 2017 and the continued usage of her land by her in-laws, she is unable to shake the fear of waking up one day to find her land completely occupied and taken away from her. Her desire is to obtain a land certificate in her name: "I need help to register my husband's inheritance because as a woman, it is always difficult. This is the only way I can protect my belongings and pass it on safely to my children.”
Given her vulnerability, Aulérie was identified by IOM as one of the people who will receive assistance in the field of housing, land and property (HLP). Aurelie received a sensitization briefing on her legal rights and is being accompanied to register her land.
Aulérie’s success story is exemplary for many women returnees. IOM Burundi adopts a gender-lens in the implementation of HLP activities and through generous support from the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration of the United States (PRM), IOM Burundi is working closely with the Government of the Republic of Burundi via local authorities to address land tenure rights and strengthen the land services. This is done through technical, material and operational capacity building of communal land services, as well as community sensitization of returnees and host communities on their land rights.
Understanding your rights and receiving support in claiming them is crucial to beneficiary’s resilience, as Zawadi, another Burundian returnee, explains. She was in a situation very similar to that of Aulérie when she met a local leader who had participated in a sensitization session organized by IOM: "He advised me to register my plot and accompanied me through all the procedures. I followed his advice and now I live in peace."
Zawadi proudly shows her land certificate: “Look, everything is on this certificate, the boundaries of my plot are clear.”
This piece of paper is a great relief for the young widow, protecting her from further contestation from her in-laws related to the ownership of the land that she lives on, and which is the source of her livelihood. It is also an additional security for the livelihood of the household since it serves as a credit guarantee: "I can even take out a loan and make plans. I will be able to leave something to my children when I die.”