Gender issues lie at the cross-section of sustainable development and will be central to the success of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Of importance is that many of the goals that relate to land feature gender as a fundamental element in their outcomes. Goal 5 seeks to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls, and specifically through one of its targets aims to undertake reforms to give women equal rights to economic resources, as well as access to ownership and control over land and other forms of property, financial services, inheritance and natural resources, in accordance with national laws.

It is in this spirit, that Habitat for Humanity Lesotho, with support from the Solid Ground campaign of Habitat for Humanity International, engaged a consultant to conduct an in-depth study on gender issues as they relate to land and housing. Various methodologies were employed, including key informant interviews, focus group discussions, field visits and importantly a land tool developed by the Global Land Tool Network, the Gender Evaluation Criteria. The process was therefore designed to reach a cross section of society from government representatives, women’s organisations, the private sector, paralegals, traditional leaders, community councils, widows, beneficiaries and the Land Advocacy reference group.

The initial findings were presented at a multi-stakeholder workshop in June of 2018 to collect responses and validate the research outcomes. The key findings concluded that land is a key factor of production and therefore has fundamental economic and livelihood functions, land is also a source of identity, ritual and culture and has deep social functions. How land is governed and managed is therefore of fundamental importance. In this regard, legal frameworks are of great importance as they serve to regulate land matters in ways that either promote or undermine women’s equitable access to land. In the context of Lesotho, Habitat for Humanity has long had a focus on inheritance issues as succession rights are critical to securing land for widows, children and orphans and those most vulnerable to forms of abuse and manipulation and to regulate land as a key intergenerational asset. The legal regimes in a dual legal context such as that of Lesotho have been identified as creating blockages to the inheritance rights of women.

The report was finalised towards the end of 2018 and launched at an event in March 2019 in Maseru, Lesotho which provided a unique opportunity to bring together the leading Government departments dealing with land and housing, namely: the Department of Housing in the Ministry of Local Government and Chieftainship Affairs, Land Survey and Physical Planning at the Ministry of Local Government and Chieftainship Affairs, Land Administration Authority and the Lesotho Housing and Land Development Corporation. In addition, there was a strong media presence, including twelve newspapers, two from Sesotho, Lesotho Television, seven radio stations and one freelance journalist. 

During the event there were presentations by the deputy board chair as well as the national director of Habitat for Humanity Lesotho and the Habitat for Humanity International Europe, Middle East and Africa advocacy specialist. The presentations reflected on women being marginalized over issues of inheritance which heighten women’s vulnerability and deepen levels of poverty. The deputy board chair stated that regardless of women’s marital status, they should be afforded equal rights to land appropriation and land issues. Further, the deputy board chair noted that the report came at a crucial time when Lesotho is undergoing National Reforms and therefore, encouraged all participants to attend public gatherings, also known as pitso, and to contribute meaningfully by voicing our opinions about land issues and women.

Importantly, the event provided an opportunity for Habitat for Humanity Lesotho, through its national director, to present a strategy developed and distilled from the research report to the participants to share and build an agenda that could provide a common rallying point to address gender and land-related questions. The national director noted that Habitat Lesotho will use different channels including the media to implement the advocacy programme. The three key strategic issues included:

1.       Programmatic Intervention – Habitat Lesotho will strengthen its inheritance rights programme to reach more women through partnering initiatives and promoting the drafting of wills and formalize property rights processes (marriage and succession laws and processes) working with partner organisations.

2.       Policy Intervention – Habitat Lesotho will work on the identification, consolidation and alignment of inheritance laws and other laws affecting women’s land rights.

3.       Institutional Intervention – The establishment of a Land Dispute Agency with mediatory and arbitration capacities to address lease and Form C disputes and those relating to inheritance issues and dispossession towards stronger land administration processes.

The in-depth study and interventions during the launch event were well received by the government representatives who recognised the importance of data and its potential to inform policies and legal reform efforts which are on-going in the country. The National University of Lesotho (NUL) recommended that Habitat Lesotho investigate approaches to empower the media with regards to gender issues so that they are more conversant with these issues raised by Habitat Lesotho and to make the media more informed advocates for our work.