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Land Ownership Rights: Access Denied – Why Women Need Equal Access to Land / Radio Scripts / Farm Radio International

Package 57, Script 9
October 2000

Land Ownership Rights: Access Denied – Why Women Need Equal Access to Land

Main message of this broadcast:   This drama illustrates some of the issues and concerns in the complex area of land ownership rights.  Even though women spend hours of every day working on the land, they are often denied access to land.  Limiting women’s access to land limits their ability to produce food more abundantly, and affects the well-being of their families and their communities.  Women are increasingly searching for ways to bring awareness to the issue of land ownership rights.  Some women are calling for changes to the laws and customs that restrict their right to own and inherit the land they work so hard.

Suggestions:   In the drama that follows, the discussion between Grace and her husband, Simon, presents possible points of view of both men and women.  End your broadcast with some questions for your listeners to initiate discussion about this topic, or invite both men and women in your audience to share their opinions about land ownership rights for women with you.  Follow up with a second broadcast presenting some of the shared opinions.  Or perhaps you could end this broadcast with a panel discussion made up of women and men in your community.  The drama is longer than most of our other scripts and you may wish to broadcast it in two parts.

MUSIC (Bring up program theme or other for 10 seconds...fade under host...).


Narrator: Program host.
Grace: Woman farmer. She is concerned about women’s right to inherit land.
Simon: Grace’s husband.

Narrator:   Coming Up: Access Denied...a drama exploring why women need equal access to land.

MUSIC (Bring up Program for 10 seconds...).

Introduction (Narrator) :  They plow it and till it.  They plant and water it.  They weed and cultivate it.  They harvest its crops to make medicines and to feed their families, communities and the world.  The ways in which women work the land are almost countless.  Women’s connection to land goes back to the beginning of time.

And yet, women are often denied access to land.  They often cannot own or inherit land.  This makes their work to produce food more difficult.

Today, we are going to listen to a conversation between Grace and her husband, Simon, about the issue of land ownership rights.


[Note:  Grace and Simon serve as narrators in the first part of the play then tone changes.]

Grace: I had just finished washing clothes and was laying the clothes in the sun when I spotted a young boy walking towards our house.  At first I did not even recognize him.  He was so thin and he looked very weak and tired.  But there was something familiar about him.  So I kept watching.  For a moment I thought he would pass our house and go on to the neighbour’s.  But as he approached our gate he stopped.  I thought he might collapse.  In that instant I recognized him and rushed to his side calling “Robert!”.  “Auntie,” he said.  His voice was weak.  “Auntie.”

BREAK (Crossfade from Robert’s voice into Simon).

Simon: It was much later that night — after I had come home from herding the cattle, we had eaten and the children were in bed — before my wife had an opportunity to tell me what had happened.  Robert is the eldest son of my wife’s sister Miriam.  Miriam’s husband Joseph died last year.  Miriam and her children live in the next village.  On that day Miriam had sent her son Robert to see my wife Grace.

Grace: I hardly recognized the boy because he looked so thin and ragged.  This is not what I would have expected from my sister’s child.  Robert had brought a letter from my sister.  It explained everything.

Simon: Very soon after Miriam’s husband died, another man, Aka, wanted to take Miriam as his wife.  Aka had just returned from living in the city.  Miriam did not want to marry Aka because last year one of Aka’s girlfriend’s died of AIDS.  Miriam believed that Aka might have the virus that causes AIDS.  She worried that he would make her ill as well.

Grace: When Aka realized that he could not marry Miriam he became angry and decided to take revenge.  Aka started spreading lies about Miriam and turning Joseph’s family against her.

Simon: Miriam had always been a faithful wife and a devoted mother.  And she is a hard worker.  But despite Miriam’s devotion to the family Joseph’s relatives turned on her.

Grace: Aka started saying that Miriam was a witch who had caused Joseph’s death so she could marry another man and bring him onto family land.  Aka said Miriam had put a spell on Joseph before his death so that he would sign over some of the cocoa fields to her.  Joseph’s relatives believed Aka, and began to avoid Miriam.  Soon the whole village was gossiping.

Simon: The family refused to give Miriam and her children any of her inheritance.  Without any family or community support, Miriam and her children began to suffer.  She sold everything she had to support the children.  She was afraid to tell my wife and her other relatives because she felt ashamed.  But when her youngest child fell ill, she decided to send Robert to Grace and me for help.

Grace: What happened to Miriam got me thinking, and I began to worry.  One evening I decided to talk to my husband about my concerns.

[Note:  At this point the play turns to a dialogue between the two characters.]

Simon: Grace, you have been very quiet tonight.  What is on your mind?

Grace: I am thinking about Miriam.  God forbid that such a thing should happen to the children and me if something awful were to happen to you.

Simon: Don’t be so foolish.  My family is not like Joseph’s.  You know you would be well taken care of.

Grace: But wouldn’t we have said the same thing about Miriam not long ago?  I am sure that until these things happened, Miriam felt secure in Joseph’s family.

Simon: But my family and Joseph’s family are different.

Grace: Yes and no.  Remember that not everyone in your family was happy that you married me.

Simon: Oh, why do you bring up ancient history?  They did not know you before.  Now they realize how important you are to this family.  You work miracles in the field.  Your fruits and vegetables are amongst the best in the market.  You’re a good wife and mother.

Grace: Still, if something were to happen to you, I am only as secure as your family decides I should be.  I am no better than Miriam and look what has happened to her!  It is not right that Miriam is denied access to her land and to inheriting her cocoa fields.  It is just because she is a woman.

Simon: What do you mean?  Of course, she is a woman.  It’s unfortunate that Joseph’s family has trumped up lies in order to rob his wife and children of their inheritance, but sometimes there is no way to avoid such things.

Grace: But why is it that a woman must depend on her husband or his family to own or inherit property?

Simon: What kind of question is this?  You know that it is our custom and tradition for a woman to be taken care of by her husband, and by his family in her husband’s absence.

Grace: But why must it be so?  Have you ever wondered why we hold on to this tradition?

Simon: Our traditions are important.  And I don’t need to wonder why we have these practices.  It is clear that a woman needs a man, her husband, to take care of her.  And it is the family duty to help the woman when the husband is not around.  A woman cannot take care of herself.  And since she has her husband and his family then she has no need of property.

Grace: But it is not true that a woman cannot take care of herself.  We women are taking care of our families every day.  We get up early and we work hard all day.  We bear children and take care of them.  We gather fuel.  We work the fields to grow food for our families to eat.  Sometimes we sell produce in the market.  We wash clothes.  We ...

Simon: Are you going to keep talking this nonsense all night?

Grace: This is not nonsense.  The list of all the things we do everyday to take care of our families is so long that I could talk all night!

Simon: So now you think women are so important that they do not need their husbands?

Grace: No, Simon. It is not that we do not need our husbands...or fathers for our children.  I am not saying that a woman should take the place of her husband.  But you know that I work hard to maintain this family.  God forbid that anything should ever happen to you, Simon.  I need you.  We all need you.  But the truth is that I can take care of myself as well as you take care of yourself.  We take care of each other Simon.  That is what makes us a family.

Simon: My friend Boyer is right.  I am too soft with you.  This is why you can think such foolishness.

Grace: You are not too soft, Simon.  You are a fair man.  And that is why I know if you think about it you will agree with me that a woman should have the right to own property and to inherit property outright.

Simon: I suppose you think the woman should be allowed to inherit land from her father as well as her husband?

Grace: And why not?

Simon: This goes against our traditions!  If the woman is inheriting all of this land what will be left for the sons?

Grace: I do not think that the woman’s rights should replace those of her brothers or sons or her husband.  But if a father has a son and a daughter, why not share the land equally between the two?  Then the woman will have something in her name.

Simon: Who is putting these notions of women’s rights into your head?

Grace: No one is putting anything into my head, Simon.  It is something I have thought about for a long time.  Why was it that I was not allowed to inherit any of my father’s land when I married you?  Would it not have been better for me to have some land to bring into your family as well?  I always felt it was unfair that my brothers got all of my father’s land.  These problems Miriam is having now could have been avoided in part if she and I were allowed to inherit land from our father.  At least she would have that and not be reduced to begging.  This is not what I want for my children.

Simon: What do our children have to do with this?

Grace: Well, think about it, Simon.  David will be able to inherit land from you, but not our daughter, Sarah.  Is that fair?  You know she is as bright and hard-working as he is.  And she has more discipline too.  I fear for her having to rely on the family of her future husband for security.  She should be able to inherit a little land from you and me too.  You know that I love both of my children equally.  I do not want to deprive David for the sake of Sarah, but we owe it to Sarah to protect her future as well.  I know that you love our daughter and want the best for her.

Simon: There is truth in what you are saying, Grace, but we cannot go against our customs and traditions.  They are what make us part of the family.

Grace: Perhaps it is time that we examined some of these traditions.  I believe we can become even stronger families if women have the means to protect themselves and their children from the kind of thing that has happened to Miriam.  We need to make the customary laws stronger so women will not be cheated of their inheritance.  And we need to make it easier for women to own land themselves.

Simon: Are you the woman I married, Grace?

Grace: The woman you married simply wants to be treated fairly.  Is it going too far to want to inherit what is rightfully mine?  I am still the woman you married, Simon.  But I am older and wiser.

Simon: A woman belongs to her husband, to his family and to the community.  What need does she have for property?  How can she own property when she is property herself?  Can a cow own property?

Grace: Are you now saying that I am just a cow to you?  Can a cow cook you your favourite ground nut soup?  Can a cow bear your children?  And give you healthy sons?

Simon: Calm down.  Calm down.  I am not saying that you are a cow.

Grace: Simon, I feel as though you have not heard a single thing I have said all night.  If I cannot convince you, a fair-minded man, what hope is there for us women?  What hope is there for our children?

Simon: Grace, my dear, I have heard you.  But even if you convince me, how can we go against our customs and traditions?

Grace: Perhaps this is not a question of going against anything.  Perhaps it is a question of creating new traditions.  Remember, there was a time we would only go to the traditional healer when we were sick?  Now we sometimes see the doctor or the nurse as well as the healer when we are sick.  We use our traditional herbs and we take modern medicines.  The two work together.  We need to work together to strengthen traditions that work for all of us and to create new traditions that will protect our children.

Simon: You know something Grace?  What you are saying makes sense to me.  But we would have to convince our Chief.

Grace: (Sounding excited now that her husband seems to be coming on side)  But we could do it Simon!  We could speak to him together!

Simon: Maybe we should talk about this some more...


  ...You know it will not be easy.

[Tone changes from dialogue between husband and wife to brief closing with Grace as narrator.]

Grace: Simon and I talked late into the night.  When it comes to women’s rights and the land there is much to talk about.

- END -


  • Contributed by:  Adiat Junaid, Researcher/Writer, Toronto, Canada.

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