Careers in Land and the Rural African Woman

By Cynthia Chirinda

In the last two years of my high school education, I chose to pursue Advanced Level studies in Geography, Literature and French. I believed that this combination of subjects would provide a wide array of career options for me to choose from, where I could apply myself profitably as an African woman with impact and relevance on the global arena.  After completing my studies, I got stuck when my father refused for me to pursue studies in broadcasting and journalism. He did not believe that these were decent career paths. I proceeded to venture into the working world by using my gift and natural skill in teaching and sponsored my tertiary education in Marketing Communications. I figured out that somehow I would still land my dream job after educating myself post high school in a field that I could enjoy and one that my father would approve of.

I started out as a high school teacher in Chitungwiza and Harare where I taught French, English and Geography respectively. I could not figure out what to do with my Geography because I had never received adequate career guidance on the opportunities within that career path.

During a recent chat, I brought up the subject about women and careers in land with a male colleague who works in land surveying in the Falkes Islands. Blessing studied geomatics, surveying, agronomy and soil physics. He told me that during his years at university, there were very few enrolments in the department of Surveying and Geomatics by female students. In Zimbabwe where he studied, there was a stigma attached to the field coupled with the hazardous working conditions. Many ladies shunned the career path for these traditional reasons.

During our conversation, he was quick to add that the working conditions were very different in Europe where he is currently based. I started thinking that perhaps I could have done a bit more with my geography studies if I had known about the broader career opportunities that existed. He highlighted that the career guidance and socialisation processes for women short-changed women in many ways. Broader land related career paths such as geology, mining, metallurgy, landscape architecture, cartography, conservation, town planning, soil science, environmental consultancy and surveying amongst others still had a very low uptake amongst African women. He added that rural women were even further marginalised in the absence of deliberate career guidance which affects their exposure to trending career opportunities associated with land.

The African view of land

The centrality of land to economic development and social welfare is unquestionable. Land has been used from time immemorial to promote economic growth and human development. Ownership, control, distribution and access to land have historically been used to dominate and empower different nations, races, genders and classes in Africa. The African view of land extends beyond the merely economic, although productive use of land. Whilst the economic is part of the social, the political, the spiritual, the cosmological and the philosophical, the African perspective of land encompasses a broader definition and understanding which links it to “being and identity.”

Fighting Poverty by Redefining Gender Roles

Rural women – a quarter of the world’s population – work as farmers, wage earners and entrepreneurs. They represent an important share of the agriculture workforce and their contribution to the rural economy is widely underestimated. They are concentrated in the informal economy in low-skilled, low-productivity, and low or unpaid jobs with long working hours. Their confinement to home-based work frequently prevents them from engaging in paid employment.

On the 26th of August this year, I had the opportunity to moderate a water bill conference which was hosted by Community Water Alliance (CWA) and Women in Law Southern Africa (WLSA). The Draft Water Bill Advocacy Concept was organised to promote dialogue and engagement of stakeholders on alignment of water laws with Section 77(a) of the 2013 Constitution of Zimbabwe. It was at this meeting that I met with two ladies who spoke passionately about issues that affect women and land.

Thandiwe Chidavarume is the National Coordinator for Women and Land in Zimbabwe. In our short interview after the conference, she shared with me her strong conviction that, “if rural women have access, control and ownership to land and related resources they will end hunger and poverty in their communities.” Her vision is to see just distribution of land and other natural resources and full recognition of women’s land rights.  In her work, she has mobilised rural women to form the Rural Women’s Assembly in Zimbabwe and the Rural Women’s Land Movement which is campaigning for every rural woman of Zimbabwe to own nothing less than 1 hectare of land.

Tabeth Ndoro Chideya her colleague at Women and Land in Zimbabwe, is a board member of the Self Help Development Foundation.  She is a community development worker and educationist by profession.  Her work has seen her promoting women’s clubs and gender mainstreaming. Throughout her career, she has encountered difficulties faced by girls and women on issues of gender discrimination, where women and men have no equality when it comes to land entitlement.

Vocational guidance for equal access and opportunity for girls and women

Vocational and career guidance are important contributors that reduce barriers to full and equal employment for women. While some countries have systematic models for vocational guidance, others do not. The real challenge is to find ways to reduce the gap between comprehensive national models of vocational guidance and local practice. This gap is created by enduring social and cultural attitudes about the role of women, by the need for greater implementation support by national ministries, and by the need for local resources to fully implement comprehensive models.

Career guidance as a process assists individuals to find profitable implementation of important personal attributes, for their own satisfaction and the benefit to society. This process should be incorporated within the educational curriculum from an early age especially for the African rural girl child whose access to information has remained limited since time immemorial.

Rural African women and development

Increasing women’s opportunities for education is a means of promoting social justice and fairness. Interventions should aim to empower rural women to claim their rights to land, leadership, opportunities and choices, and to participate in shaping laws, policies and programmes. Evidence shows that this spurs productivity gains, enhanced growth and improved development prospects for current and future generations. Governments need to develop and implement laws and policies that promote equal rights, opportunities and participation so that rural women can benefit from trade and finance, market their goods and make a strong contribution to inclusive economic growth. Consciousness-raising among rural women is an effective means of encouraging rural women to seek and assume new roles and for questioning unreasonable expectations and norms. Expanding women’s career opportunities around land promises a pathway out of poverty.

Cynthia Chirinda is an Organisational and Personal Development Consultant, a Life Coach, Author, and Strategist. E-mail: LinkedIn: Cynthia Chirinda.  Mobile: 263 717 013 206.

Photo by Omotayo Tajudeen from Pexels

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