Every day, in defiance of the law, Congolese women are driven away from land that rightfully belongs to them — sometimes by neighbors, often by their own families, and too often with impunity. “Women’s access to land remains an enormous challenge in Congolese society, particularly in the eastern DRC,” explains Me Aline Bahati, attorney and coordinator of the Panzi Foundation’s legal clinic. “Some antiquated customs maintain that a woman, a simple homemaker, has no right to any property, and that she is destined solely for marriage.”
Fortunately, those antiquated customs don’t have the force of law. With funding from ECI, the Women’s Land Access project aims to raise awareness in South Kivu communities about women’s legal rights, and help women secure the legal title to land that’s rightly theirs.
Navigating the complexities of property law is difficult for anyone — but for survivors of gender-based violence in the eastern DRC, the challenges can be almost insurmountable. “In the precarious conditions in which these women live,” says ECI grant manager Masudi Katembela, “it is very difficult to prove their own right to ownership.”
That’s where Me Aline and her colleagues spring into action. “Judicial defenders and paralegals go into the field to help these women gather all the information they need to prove their claims,” says Masudi. The process is complex and labor-intensive — he calls it “social research” — but it can lead to life-changing results.
On Friday, September 4, fifteen women — all survivors of gender-based violence — each received a precious piece of paper: an official deed to their own land. ECI operations manager Valéry Namuto went to Miti to represent ECI at the ceremony. “It was wonderful!” he said. Valéry took some pictures from the day, and the joy is palpable.
Women sing to celebrate their official title to their own land. Video: Valéry Namuto / ECI
These fifteen women’s legal victory is just one step in a long journey — but Me Aline sees the future clearly. “It’s up to every man and woman,” she says, “everyone who’s passionate about a society where social cohesion reigns, to support women’s emergence as full participants in the community.” ◼