A side chat on customary land ownership & the gender gap in Africa


Gima H. Forje


From October 23 – 26, 2022 actors in the philanthropic and civic space gathered in Kagili for the first in-person meeting of the African Philanthropic Forum (APF) since the outbreak of COVID-19. Participants were ostensibly delighted to see each other after a prolong period of lockdown and daunting restrictions on both local and international travels.

There are arguably two other good reasons why people were thrilled about the 2022 APF:

First, it was held in the beautify city of Kigali, the capital of Rwanda – the welcoming land of a thousand hills. The choice of Kigali as the host city meant everyone with an African passport could easily attend the meeting; thanks to the welcoming policy of Rwanda that allows Africans into the country for free without a visa. So, we came from every corner of Africa!

Even more importantly, Rwanda has positioned itself as a leader not just in Africa but globally in trailblazing the paths towards women empowerment and in closing the gender gap. It was therefore a befitting location for a discussion by African philanthropists on closing the gender gap. If anyone had doubts about the progress made by Rwanda and what other nations can learn from their example, I am sure after listening to President Paul Kagame, as well as the First lady and other industry leaders from the country, their doubts were cleared.

Every session was exciting as panellists discussed passionately about the issues at hand and engaged with the audience from the heart. I reckon the launch of the African Gender Fund was the key highlight for many as it was a practical demonstration of our collective commitment to work in a concerted manner in the long term to bridge the gender gap.

As faith will have it, the major highlight for me came from a conversation over lunch around the role of customary land ownership in Africa in sustaining the gender gap. In a discussion between six of us from West, East, Central and South Africa, it because apparent that customary land ownership and transfer is a major challenge to women across the continent; especially those who are primarily focused on subsistent agriculture. There is consensus that in most of our villages, land belongs to the man and the male members of the family, leaving little room for women and girls to own, inherit or even buy. Yet, the vast majority of those engaged in farming in the most basic and rudimentary form are women.

As we rounded up lunch, there was agreement that it is important for African philanthropists to invest some more in bridging this historic disparity that has become customary and, in a sense, acceptable in most of our communities. The case is simple – half of our population are women, about 70 – 80 percent of women in Africa are involved in agricultural labour while only 1 – 5 percent of women own the land on which they farm in many of our countries. There is clearly a need to fix this disparity if we are going to make progress in closing the gender gap in a way that affect women at the grassroots.

Hopefully, this side talk over lunch will get the attention of someone who has the powers to do something about this disparity that continues to perpetuate inequality.

Gima H. Forje
Chief Executive Officer at TY Danjuma Foundation

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