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The Woman is a Tractor

Land rights in the DRC

In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), women in rural areas contribute 50% to the agricultural economy and ensure 75% of production in the subsistence economy. However, a recent piece of research commissioned by Women for Women International and funded by DFID shows that they are far from achieving equal land rights.


In 2014, as part of the DFID-funded project, we led a particpatory film-making project with a group of women farmers in the DRC. They created short films to share their experience of accessing land and the challenges they face.

After years of bitter conflict, land ownership is a key source of tension in the DRC. Land that was previously communal has been sold off to wealthy elites, depriving farmers of access to their fields. Chronic lack of investment in agriculture and rural infrastructure has created an agrarian crisis, leaving adequate farming resources and fertile land scarce. Mining and timber exploitation has disempowered rural populations.

In this context, it is women that are at the greatest disadvantage. While the Congolese constitution enshrines equal land ownership for all, a woman can only purchase land with the permission of her husband, and customary law prevents women from purchasing, inheriting or selling land. If women do manage to inherit land, they often do not formally hold the land title. The land registration process is long, expensive and rife with corruption. One woman told us:

“There is not one single woman who can have her own field here. If she dares to buy one, the vendor asks for the name of her husband so that it can be registered in his name.”

Because of these factors, women are often restricted to selling lower value produce by men and have little access to farming resources, training and markets. As one woman told us:

‘The woman is seen only as a producer or a worker for the family. The whole weight of the family hangs over her because she works more than the man…the woman is a tractor.’

drc land
Photo: Millie Harvey

It is clear that improving women’s access to land not only enables them to increase their economic independence, but also improves the lives of whole families and communities. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, if women had the same access to vital agricultural inputs as men in 34 developing countries, agricultural output would increase to by up to an average of 4%, reducing the number of undernourished people by 17%.

Since 2004, we have worked with over 80,000 women in the DRC and have seen what a difference supporting women can make. As a result of our programme, women’s average daily income tripled, from $0.53 at enrolment to $1.87 two years after graduation. Moreover, 85% report educating other women on their rights, compared to just 3% at enrolment. Yet, until women gain equal access to the land that they work on, significant barriers to gender equality remain.

Read the full research report or a summary of the report.

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