Study shows increasing land grabbing among women in Uganda

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A recent study conducted by the“Land and Equity Movement in Uganda (LEMU) found that widows comprise around 10% of households and over half have suffered attempts to grab land in Lango sub region. Divorcees and separated women can also be up to 10% of households and almost all suffer violations of land rights. It was impossible to quantify how many orphans fell victims to land grabbers.

Land grabbing is deliberate and illegal taking away of someone else’s land rights, E.g. Taking their land or refusing to give them their legal inheritance. It may also be interpreted as the contentious issue of large-scale land acquisition i.e. the buying or leasing of large pieces of land in developing countries, by domestic and transnational companies, governments, and individuals following the 2007-2008 world food price crisis.

Lan rights violations has left the youth, children and widows vulnerable as shown by study conducted. Many couples – especially the poor or elderly – also suffer land grabbing and available data from the Uganda Bureau of Statistics (UBOS) found that 15% of households in Uganda had land disputes which has led to sluggish development, abject poverty and divisions among communities. The problem has mainly affected widows, orphans and the elderly.

How does land grabbing take place?

It can happened in various ways especially when you least expect it since it’s those who are closer to you who will grab it;

Grabbing by gradual encroachment, in this case, the grabber tests their targeted victim by first encroaching on a small portion say one or two meters into their field, if in a year’s time his victim has still not noticed then takes up more portion. Those who feel weak (e.g. the old, widows) don’t want to pick a quarrel with the neighbor so resort to keep quiet, feeling that it is better to ‘compromise’ for the sake of peace. The grabber is then encouraged and progressively takes more.

Grabbing by Borrowing, A person identifies a target and asks to borrow the land for use for a specific period then refuses to return and maintains a continuous presence on the land.

Grabbing by seizing opportunities, In this situation, Land grabbers take advantage of circumstances that Favour them, encroach just after the target has become vulnerable – e.g. immediately after loss of a husband against a widow and on to the most vulnerable such when kids loose both parents and land is left fallow. Grabbers can exploit any circumstance.

Grabbing by intimidation, when the victim is intimidated and at a vulnerable state, the land grabber acts because at this stage the victim tends to give up. A variety of forms of intimidation are used which rest on making the victim feel powerless, afraid, worthless and believing that the land grabber can act with impunity. e.g. Verbal abuse is the easiest (“Old people are told they are already dead’ so how can soil fight for soil?”), women are insulted as inferior (“you are a mere woman”; “when you married, did you carry land to this place?”). The grabber demonstrates his power and impunity by physically stopping the victim from using their own land. Animals are deliberately grazed on the victim’s crops. (Grabbers often own livestock: wealth is a form of power that grabbers exploit.) A grabber may slash the victim’s crops, and build a house right up to the victim’s own house.etc

A new report released by international justice mission, a Civil Society Organisation has indicated that Mukono district is leading with the highest numbers of cases of land grabbing with widows and orphans the main victims.

Mike Chibita the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) while launching the report on Land Rights at hotel Protea in Kampala, a week ago urged the married couples to always plan for their families while still alive. Edward Ochom the assistant inspector general of police attributed the high grabbing cases to “low reporting of cases to police by widows and high costs incurred in investigation”

Civil Society Organisations such as WOUGNET should continue to advocate for land rights issues among women in Uganda and devise strategies that culturally limits as well as impedes women’s access to Land. Regulations and policies should align with the universal rights of women to land and property ownership. To change community attitudes, there is a need to promote more open discussions to bring the problem of property grabbing out of the family sphere and into the public sphere. It is also essential that children participate in efforts to secure their rights.



Daisy ArutunProgram Assistant, Information Sharing  & Networking