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News and Resources

Asserting women’s rights to land in Cameroon


News and Resources

Rooftops Canada staff member Geneviève Drouin spent a month in Cameroon in January-February 2006, working with our partner organization CONGEH .

 

Cameroon is a beautiful country where it is said that all possible forms of terrain exist. The north is a desert which, moving south grows into savannah and finally becomes a tropical rainforest to the South-East. The West is mountainous with a history of volcanic activity and sulfurous lakes that taper into a coastal plain on the South Atlantic. Among all of this beauty lies a widespread struggle for access to this land, particularly for women. The problem is noticeably more intense in urban centers. In Yaoundé, the densely populated capital where I was introduced to Cameroon, people have built homes and communities on land they may be forced to vacate at any unknown moment.

 

The majority of Cameroonians in urban centers live in a persistent state of insecure land tenure. Approximately 80% of households in Yaoundé do not hold legal title to the land they occupy. A walk through the city reveals the visible consequences of this situation. On unserviced land, electricity, plumbing, and garbage disposal are make-shift. In some areas there is evidence of what was once a community, where the government has expropriated the land and ordered the razing of homes and businesses, without providing sufficient warning, compensation or alternative living arrangements. In other areas, there has been a doubling or in some cases a tripling or quadrupling of land titles. Léon Guy Mfomou, the director of CONGEH, our partner organization in Cameroon, states that, “this can have dire consequences for a family that has invested its life savings into buying a piece of land, only to find out that the land is not theirs after all.” Insecure land tenure affects entire communities, but the women, whose options are fewer, are more deeply affected.

 

CONGEH has created a concrete response to this problem that is gaining some solid ground. The Land Consultation Clinic offers resources and support to people struggling with issues of insecure housing and land tenure. It places a particular emphasis on women’s equal ownership of, access to, and control over land and their equal right to adequate housing. Léon Guy explains that “in a context where traditional forms of land distribution have come head-to-head with more recent national laws and policies, it is not always clear what a person’s rights are to a particular piece of land or property, especially in the case of women. Further, there are single women who, without land and adequate shelter, struggle to provide for their families without knowing that they even have the right to inherit or own property.”

 

CONGEH is attempting to gather documentation pertaining to land rights, particularly relating to women. This documentation will be reinterpreted for the public. The intention is to promote a better understanding of land rights and the opportunities that exist for exerting these rights. This is an invaluable service in the absence of an inclusive economic and social support system. CONGEH is also using its resources to advocate to government and local officials to enforce existing laws and policies. This initiative is spreading throughout the Habitat International Coalition’s Women and Shelter Network in Francophone Africa (HIC WAS FA), an international land rights network, which is, in part, based out of CONGEH’s office. Already, at least five network members have followed CONGEH’s lead by establishing Land Consultation Clinics, where people can learn about their rights and options for action, and where non-governmental and community based organizations are making solid efforts to advocate for change.