NAKURU, Kenya, June 18 (Xinhua) -- Elizabeth Ibrahim, a middle aged woman from the semi-arid Turkana county in northwest Kenya was married off in 1996 as a fifth wife when she was only 21 years old.
Ibrahim was forced to drop out of secondary school to become a housewife but 15 years later, her husband died leaving her behind with more than 24 acres of land.
At the time of his death, Ibrahim had built her financial resources through singing in social events and engagement in group savings.
"When my husband died, life turned upside down. The local administration wanted to take away my land just because I was a widow. They took me in circles so that I would grow weary and give up but they were wrong. They assumed there is nothing I would do," Ibrahim told Xinhua recently.
"They were shocked to receive inquiry letters from the ministry of lands and the anti-graft agency where I had earlier lodged complaints," she added.
The administrator finally let go of the land and Ibrahim is now the legal owner of the 24 acres of the land. But she said she would have lost the land had it not been for her aggressiveness and capability to finance her movements.
Now, Ibrahim is a vocal defender of women land rights in the larger Turkana County and she attends conferences both locally and internationally to share her experiences and encourage other women to be steadfast in fighting for the land to own land.
"There is so much discrimination against women in the villages even though we do have laws that protect their rights. A lot of sensitization needs to be done so that people are aware that customs or traditions do not supersede the constitution," said Ibrahim.
However, it is impossible for women to defend their land rights without finances, observed Ibrahim
"You need bus fare to travel to the chief or land's office. You need airtime to call the people who will support you or offer advice. You need money to go to court. Without money it is simply difficult to make a move. That's why most women do not seek redress because they cannot afford the expenses," said Ibrahim.
She decried the struggles of millions of women in Kenya in their bid to protect their land rights. This is despite the constitution outlawing discrimination of either gender in access and ownership of property and land.
Further, the Land Act (2012) and Matrimonial Property Act (2013) have guaranteed the women the rights to become rightful owners of land and inheritors of property left behind by their spouses or parents.
Even with the existence of the supportive legislative framework, the proportion of women owning land is still low considering the available statistics.
Federation of Women Lawyers estimates that one percent of women own titles on their own notwithstanding 32 percent of the households are headed by women.
Advocates of women empowerment in Kenya argue that economic constraints, lack of information, patriarchal systems and weak execution of pro-women land rights laws are great barriers to freeing women from discrimination related to ownership and control of land.
Shatikha Chivusia, commissioner at the Kenya National Human Rights Commission regretted that women continue to be viewed through the lens of patriarchal perceptions thus undermining enjoyment of their land rights.
"Often women will prefer to keep off speaking for their land rights out of fear of receiving a backlash from their own community," said Chivusia.
"They fear social pressure that comes with challenging the patriarchal systems that have defined the place of women as unequal to men. But they end up suffering with their children," she added.
The commissioner said women need the support of one another in fighting for their rights as they face a common problem and addressing it requires a unified voice.
They also need to be properly and adequately informed of their rights, information that should flow to the women in the villages as they are highly vulnerable to land injustice, said Chivusia.
Daisy Mosse, founder of Wakili Mashinani, a legal aid community-based organization currently operating in Nakuru County, said communities continue to deny women their right to land ownership despite passage of laws that criminalizes the outdated practice.
"That is why a lot of sensitization has to be done at the grassroots so that the women are aware of what to do when their land rights are denied and those who perpetrate land injustice know the consequences of doing so," said Mosse.