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Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire

UN Conference Identifies Land Ownership as a Major Problem for Women in Cameroon

The commitment was taken at the end of the United Nations 15th Conference of parties to Combat desertification which ended Friday May 20, 2022 in Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire.

During the two-week long event, the Cameroonian Delegation headed by Cameroon’s Ambassador to Ivory Coast, Madame Kolokou Marie Yvette Nkuo, advocated for women’s access with regards to land ownership, which is still a major concern in Cameroon.

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“Less than 20% of all landholders globally are women,” a new study finds.

A new study published by the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) says that less than 20% of all landholders globally are women.

Farmland / Credit: CRTV.

Speaking at a press briefing from the ongoing UNCCD 15th Conference of the Parties, a senior international consultant argued that without women’s access to land, there can be no equitable development.

"There can be no gender equality without access to land,” said Loreno Aguilar, a former Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs of Costa Rica. Aguilar now works for the UNCCD.

Women and the challenge of land ownership in Cameroon

Women in Cameroon constitute about 70% of the agricultural work force, but less than 1% of them own land in the country.

people standing together
UNCCD Delegates / Credit: CRTV.

The customary law of Cameroon grants them access to land, but no rights to own the property.

Moreover, the 1974 ordinance which establishes that registration is the only proof of ownership further complicates the situation for rural communities. But, land remains an integral part in the socio-political development of communities, and it is fundamental that women are integrated in policies with regards to land ownership since they carry out most activities on land.

The country’s 1996 constitution recognizes equal rights for land ownership irrespective of sex. In reality, women in the Northwest of Cameroon are subject to a typical patriarchal system, which gives them little or no access to land.

Most women in the region are only offered land for cultivation but the property belongs to their spouse or family. A few women in urban areas do buy and own land but most of them find difficulties acquiring full land tenure.

Desertification heightens

Delegates from 196 countries including Cameroon at the UNCCD COP15 identified “tenure security as a crucial enabler for land degradation neutrality.”

Without the rights to own property, women are discouraged to invest time and energy in ecosystem restoration and community-based adaptions.

Lovees Aferbombi, an environment expert in Bamenda, said that women in the region are resource managers and their role in fighting land degradation and desertification cannot be minimized.

The Coordinator of Cameroon Youth for Sustainable Development and Environmental Protection, Elvis Tata Fonyuy, said it’s important to get women on board in policies regarding land and the fight against desertification.

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Gender disparity hinders women's land ownership / Credit: CRTV.

Gender rights advocates opine that gender disparity hinders equality to land rights.

As the UNCCD Conference ends, there are calls for the populations to take urgent action in land restoration and this can be achieved with the full participation of women in land policies.

This story was produced as part of the 2022 UNCCD Virtual Reporting Fellowship, a journalism fellowship organized by Internews' Earth Journalism Network and the Robert Bosch Stiftung. It was originally published in the CRTV on May 26, 2022. It has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Banner image: Discussions at the UNCCD COP15 / Credit: CRTV.