Land ownership: How the tide is changing for pastoral women

 Ms Nalarusi Lesokoyo shows her plot allocation number. The widow from Ol Donyiro Ward in Isiolo County, is among the women who recently received title deeds for parcels of land after the area was gazetted as an adjudication area. Most women in pastoral communities often have to get permission to access and use family land.

Photo credit: Photo | Pool

What you need to know:

  • In most countries, women, don’t have a say on acquisition and disposal of land and other properties including livestock.
  • Most women in pastoral communities  have to get permission to access and use family land.
  • They also shy away from buying their own parcels; but that is changing.

Along the border of Kenya and Uganda in Pokot North Sub-county is Kiwawa. The place is a beehive of activities. Beneath these bustle are traditions that have held women back in many ways.

In most countries, women, don’t have a say on acquisition and disposal of land and other properties including livestock.  In pastoral communities, especially, girls are not entitled to land inheritance, which limit land ownership.

"No woman dares to buy land here. More often, my husband may decide to sell our land without consulting me, but I can't sell the same parcel," says Chepekamoi Ekwakit, 38.

Majority of women in pastoral communities often have to get permission to access and use family land, and shy away from buying their own parcels.

Pauline Chepochepos Longar, 25, says most women in the community do not know their land ownership rights.

“We don’t know what it takes to own land as women. We need more education because we need to be empowered to be able to take our children to school, and engage in other economic activities,” she tells

In West Pokot County, 92 per cent of land belongs to men, six per cent jointly owned by men and woman/women, while two per cent is singlehandedly owned by women.

West Pokot men at  a public baraza on land rights at Chesra, in Kapenguria. The baraza, held last month,  was organised by the local chief.

Photo credit: Stanley Kimuge | Nation Media Group

This county is also ranked second in regard to polygamous men. A man who doesn't marry more than one wife is considered an outcast.

The situation is not different for Baringo County.

Our visit to Kwokwa Island, one of the seven islands on Lake Baringo reveals that among the Ilchamus community who reside here, women didn’t traditionally have a say on decision-making on land matters.

The situation in the country is, however, changing. Land experts now want more awareness to educate communities on land rights to reverse the situation.

“We recently managed to change the land from community group range where few elderly men were decision makers; now it is community land. We are now among decision makers, which was not the case in the past,” explains Maria Lagariop, a mother of five and a resident of Kwokwa Island that is dominated by the Ilchamus community.

The Assistant County Commissioner of Kiwawa in Pokot North Sub-county, Nimrod Kaane, admits that cultural beliefs and lack of awareness on land rights, have hindered women from land ownership.  

“Land is still a very emotive issue in the community, especially when it comes women owning it. But we have a new generation of educated men who have given some women plots within the centres,” he says.

He explains that time is ripe for women’s empowerment, for them to understand their rights on land use and ownership.

“When a woman wants to buy land, she is likely to use proxies, often a man, to approach the land owner," says the official, adding that some land owners will first engage the women’s husbands who will then question where they got the money to buy land.

Mr Kaane discloses that they have initiated a process, in consultation with local land management committee comprised of five women and 10 men, to support more women to get title deeds.

Through the EU-FAO funded digital land program implemented in collaboration with the national government and counties, the local communities get education on land rights, supporting them to register community land so they have access and own it.

Mariah Marich, a nominated MCA and land rights advocate in West Pokot County speaks to Nation.Africa on 23/08/2023. She says most women in marginalised areas lack knowledge about their land rights.

Mariah Bariach, is one of the few women who own land in the devolved unit. The nominated MCA and champion for land rights in her community, admits that most women in the marginalized communities have no knowledge on land rights.

She states that access to land and title deeds will enable women to access loans and other credit facilities.

“Most of the time when a husband dies, women tend to lose properties including land, because she is told there is no document to show how the wealth would be shared,” explains Bariach.

For the last decade, the 57-year-old has been sensitizing members of the community on land use and ownership. And tides are changing as more women now own land.

“Through sensitization programs, the community now appreciates that there is need for more women to own land but we need more such programs in the community. For instance, at Cheperaria area, 35 per cent of women now own land,” states Ms Bariach who is also Maendeleo Ya Wanawake chairperson North Rift chapter.

According to Esther Chelimo Loukotumin, the Lands county executive in West Pokot County, the number of women who own land are fewer and they are working to reverse the trend.

"We encourage land registrars to ensure women's names are included in title deeds so that transfer becomes easier,” adds the county executive.

Ms Loukotumin argues that women tend to use land better to grow own food crops and keep livestock, thus addressing food shortages, malnutrition and raise their own income.

County executive for Lands in Baringo County, Reuben Rutto, says only three per cent of women own land in the county due to cultural beliefs that hinder women form land ownership.

Some of the women at a public baraza on land rights at Chesra, Kapenguria, West Pokot County. The baraza, held last month,  was organised by the local chief.

Photo credit: Stanley Kimuge | Nation Media Group

“Generally in this county, when a girl grows up, she has no entitlement to ancestral land inheritance,” states the executive, noting that only 40 per cent of the land has been demarcated, leaving most of the county without titles.

Mr Rutto says the county is currently sensitizing locals in Tiaty, Baringo North and Baringo South. They are also working to ensure the vast land is adjudicated, demarcated and proper land ownership. 

Baringo County governor Benjamin Cheboi, agrees that traditions of pastoral communities have negatively impacted land ownership among women.

“The law on land use is clear. When it comes to apportioning of land, it does not discriminate, and we must comply with the law,” said the county governor during an interview in his office. 

Husna Mbarak, digital land programme lead at Food Agriculture Organization (FAO) notes that there are gaps on policy framework and lack of proper data on land ownership in the country.

“We still approximate that less than two per cent of women own land.  The moment we go digital and we have all data, it will help in planning and zoning of land for agricultural activities or investors,” she explains.

The expert also calls for enforcement of the laws including Matrimonial Act and interventions, to ensure there is better land use and ownership.

True wife

“There is also need to relook land control boards. Land transfer processes should also be reviewed so that we have proper way of verification . . .  when you want to sell land as man, you can walk to land control board with a woman, but there is no way to verify whether she is the true wife,” says Ms Mbarak, who is also a land policy expert.

Sebastian Mwenza, a county land technical specialist at FAO, says fewer women in pastoral communities own land because they are not entitled inherit land, and lack resources to acquire the same. In urban set ups, women have to go through rigorous succession processes, which discourages them from land ownership.

“In some of these communities, women are still viewed as ‘children’ yet studies show that when women own land, more of it is utilized towards food security or other meaningful purposes,” observes Mr Mwenza.

He decries the lack of enforcement of some existing laws. For instance, despite the law providing that a third of land management committee membership should be women, this is not the case in most places.

The land expert reckons that there is general lack of awareness and understanding on the laws around land ownership and use, leading to low number of women owning land.

“We are also advocating for alternative resolution mechanisms in land cases using the existing policy framework, to hasten the process of solving the disputes. For instance, in Kisumu, we are supporting widows to get justice,” he explains.