Over the past two years, women and men across seven communities in Zambia have gathered in groups of around ten to discuss land rights and issues that impact them. These groups are called study circles and are an initiative of Habitat for Humanity Zambia to build knowledge and support of land rights—particularly women’s land rights—and increase community participation in land governance processes.
So far, the study circles have discussed wanting to have more interaction with their local municipal governments. In response, Habitat Zambia has coordinated meetings between municipal officials and the study circles. As a result, the municipality has begun simplifying their land occupancy license application process, which will make it easier for people to secure land titles in the future.
Zambia’s National Gender Policy, adopted in March 2000, provides that 30% of all land available for distribution by the state should be allocated to women. Despite gender equal land laws, there is little public awareness that these laws exist, nor do most local authorities possess the capacity to implement them. Therefore, Habitat Zambia has a unique role to play in advocating for and tracking governmental implementation of national land and gender laws and building public knowledge that these laws exist and can benefit everyone.
Through the Solid Ground campaign, Habitat Zambia is striving to address equitable land policy implementation through solidarity initiatives, empowering community members with tools, training and support to seek change in their own communities.
Habitat Zambia is dedicated to using a community-participatory advocacy approach, and study circles are just one method they employ. In 2017, Habitat Zambia trained and mobilized 140 change agents—influential community and religious leaders—and 70 civic leaders to champion advocacy around gender equality in land rights and secure land tenure in the urban slum communities of Twapia, Chipulukusu, Chainda, Chazanga, Kamanga, Bauleni and Linda.
Habitat Zambia strengthened community members’ responsiveness and ability to participate in governance issues by being involved in the tracking and monitoring of budgetary resources and other social services stated in their annual entitlements.
To protect secure land tenure of beneficiaries, Habitat Zambia offered will-writing lessons to families—particularly women—who owned land to mitigate property grabbing. Change agents educated their neighbors on existing women’s land rights and shared opportunities to get involved in land rights advocacy.
Additionally, Habitat Zambia is building support of women’s land rights through media engagement. Habitat Zambia has partnered with two community radio stations: Yastani in Lusaka and Chimwemwe in Ndola. The radio stations have provided free radio spots, creating an avenue for local change agents to disseminate information on land rights.
For example, Chipulukusu community change agents were featured on a Chimwemwe community radio program, educating listeners on the correct procedure of land allocation in Zambia, from stages of advertisement to title issuance. According to Habitat Zambia, building partnerships between radio stations and change agents has been crucial for sustaining community advocacy activities. In total, change agents have reached 26,349 people on women’s land tenure and housing rights through radio programs, canvassing and study circles.
As illustrated through their work with the study circles, Habitat Zambia acts as an effective bridge between community members and government officials, amplifying the voices and needs of community members. For example, in June 2017, Habitat Zambia made significant strides in advocating for secure tenure in Chipulukusu and Twapia, slum neighborhoods in the city of Ndola. Most residents had been living without proof of land ownership, rendering them tenure insecure. Under its advocacy program, Habitat Zambia met with Ndola City Council members, which led directly to the City’s issuance of Land Record Cards to 3,000 households, impacting 15,600 people in these two communities. This land documentation practice is continuing to spread to other communities represented by the Ndola City Council.
Habitat Zambia’s continual advocacy for land rights through meetings with local officials has led to Ndola and Lusaka City Councils committing to integrate gender considerations in all land issues, ensure engagement with community members and improve service delivery to residents. Habitat Zambia’s meetings with the councils have been successful in providing a vital link between local authorities and grassroots community leaders, improving communication, mobilization and implementation around land governance.
Not only has Habitat Zambia advocated for land rights locally, but they have made several national policy recommendations. In December 2017, Habitat Zambia submitted policy recommendations through the Zambia Land Alliance, a coalition of civil society organizations working for land rights, in response to gaps in the National Land Policy draft, including ensuring gender equal systems, community participation in implementation and land tool formulation, secure tenure in unplanned settlements and slum upgrading with women as core participants.
Although major implementation changes based on Habitat’s recommendations have not yet occurred nationally, Habitat Zambia is cultivating its voice as an expert in the field, having seen success in local areas that could be replicated regionally and nationally.
Kanyata Muelabai, Habitat Zambia’s national director, explained that “when women at the community level engage their civic leaders, elected officials listen to them,” which is why Habitat Zambia uses a bottom-up approach. “As a result, we’ve seen a growing political will towards improving women’s status in land tenure governance, and Habitat Zambia is now known as an actor in promoting land rights and tenure.”