As We Turn Five, We Pause to Acknowledge Why We Do What We Do
Resource Equity (RE) turns five years old on December 1st. There’s something about those five year increments—five, ten, fifteen, twenty—they seem solid, meaningful, a moment to pause. So let’s pause then, and consider why this small organization with its singular focus matters.
RE works to protect the rights of rural women who depend on land but don’t have clear rights to it. Most of our work is legal, related to drafting new laws or amending old laws and regulations, but also in the implementation and enforcement of legal rights. We specifically focus on women because everywhere we work, around the globe, women face huge barriers to their economic and physical well-being. In May of next year, I will have been working on legal issues related to land rights for women and men for 25 years. And still, every time I go out to rural areas and interview women, I hear something that is difficult to take in. On my last trip to Lesotho, a small country in southern Africa, the model for Wakanda, the fictional kingdom in the Black Panther, it happened again.
Daughters have a difficult time inheriting land in Lesotho. Customary law is applied to daughters’ inheritance, and customary law says that the oldest son inherits. For daughters to inherit, they have to be able to prove that the person who died gave up all his “African ways” and lived as a European—nearly impossible to prove. This law is a holdover from the colonialists, who applied a “mode of life” test to inheritance—essentially Africans were exempt from European inheritance laws.
What do young girls with no rights to land do in Lesotho? They work in textile factories. What must they do to keep their job in the factory? Accept sexual abuse and harassment. In fact, whenever they have to depend on a man—for a ride to work or to borrow money, for example—they know that sexual favors may be required.
Here’s the stunning part. As awful as that is, the girls make a joke out of it. In their phone contacts, they refer to these men as the “Minister of Transportation,” or the “Minister of Finance.” For instance, “My daughter is sick and needs medicine, I need to get the Minister of Transportation to take me to the pharmacy,” or “I need to borrow money from the Minister of Finance again.” Each transaction requires them to give something—and very often—they have nothing to give but their bodies.
For our team there are two important lessons here. First, the human spirit is incredible. To find humor in horror is pretty impressive. And second, economic power isn’t just about moving up in the world, buying new stuff, or even affording good food. Economic power gives women the ability to say no to abuse of all kinds. Ensuring women and girls have rights to land is not always the answer and is not the only answer. But, we live in a transactional world, and land is a valuable asset that many women cannot acquire. Economic empowerment for women means that they have something other than their bodies to exchange for their basic needs.
I hear some version of this exchange every time I talk to women—women who stay with abusive men, girls who agree to marry older men at their families’ request, and women who negotiate with fishermen to be the ones to sell their fish. Until women and men have equal opportunity to use and control land and other resources, until women have real economic choices, Resource Equity will continue to have birthdays.
As we enter our sixth year, our team wants to thank you for supporting women’s land and resource rights. We truly believe empowered women change the world.
We at Resource Equity know that strengthening women’s rights to land and resources leads to positive changes for women, their families, and their communities. That is why we are focused on working with partners across the world to help ensure that laws relating to land benefit women and men equally, and that through having secure access to land, women are able to move towards increased prosperity and economic security.
This December our aim is to raise $30,000 to help continue this work. Any donation – small or large – will help us reach this goal.
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