About the Project

Cultural Transformation and Human Rights in Africa: Women and Land


The studies and other activities reported on this web site are the product of two phases of a project on Cultural Transformation and Human Rights in Africa, implemented by the Religion and Human Rights Project of the Law and Religion Program, Emory University, two generous grants from the Ford Foundation. The first phase of the project was also supported by a grant from Emory University Fund for Internationalization.


Concept, Objectives and Methodology

The first phase was designed to apply a human rights paradigm in uncovering the actual realities and exploring the possibilities of the role of religion and law in the processes of cultural transformation.In so doing, the project sought to draw on positive aspects of the dialectic tripartite relationship among religion, law and human rights, as well as addressing its negative dimensions. The concept of the project took a broad and dynamic view of religion to include local or indigenous belief systems and customary practices, and of law to encompass customary and religious law as well as state law and its enforcement institutions and processes.

The projectís concept was also premised on a dynamic and innovative view of human rights which draws on local cultural and legal norms and institutions, and locally set priorities in the precise definition and effective implementation of individual and collective claims and entitlement.This concept neither ignores the issues underlying challenges to the universality of human rights in the present cultural and political context of African societies, nor concedes the high moral ground to radical and negative relativism that seeks to repudiate the principle of universality itself.

While emphasizing the importance of internally produced conceptions, priorities and implementation processes of human rights, the project was also intended to take external and cross-cultural influence and exchange as inevitable, indeed desirable.Our concern with this dialectic of internal and external factors and processes was reflected in the selection of the researchers who designed and implemented the country studies during the second year of the project: local scholars/activists who had access to local communities and grass-roots organizations in their own countries.

In all of its activities, the fundamental overarching goal of the project is to render the best possible scholarship in the service of policy and action: how to identify, encourage and promote internally recognized reform proposals.To this end, the five country studies done under the first phase adopted an integrated model, whereby local field work and research leads to deeply contextual analysis and formulation of reform proposals to be promoted within the local communities, as well as at the national, regional and international level.

Activities during the First phase

During its first year, the project organized two meetings to explore questions of scope, priorities, methodology and potential participants in studies of cultural transformation and human rights in Africa: An informal one-day consultation was convened at Emory University on 22 June 1996.A more structured and substantive three-day workshop was co-organized with the Center for African Studies of the University of Cape Town in 11-13 March 1997. Thematic summaries of the proceedings of these meetings were presented in a Preliminary Report, published in Emory International Law Review, vol. 11, no. 1, Spring 1997, pp. 287-349.

As result of discussions at the two meetings, and extensive informal consultations, the directors of the project selected the theme of Women and Land in Africa, as the focus of activities during the second year of the project.This framework was to be implemented through a three step process: (1) A team of local researchers to conduct empirical and theoretical studies in carefully selected countries through an agreed conceptual framework and methodology in order to develop concrete policy and law reform proposals.(2) Each team of researchers should work with local non-governmental organizations, scholars and activists in evaluating and disseminating emerging proposals among relevant constituencies in the region.(3) Final policy and law reform proposals, as revised or reformulated through local and regional consultations, should then be communicated to governmental and inter-governmental policy makers for possible implementation.

The main criteria used in selecting countries to be studied combined a representative variety of land tenure systems, cultural, economic and political profile, and type of colonial experience or lack thereof.In each case, a lead researcher was selected and invited to submit her/his individual research proposal, separate budget, and identify research assistants, all in accordance with the concept and organization of the project as a whole.The countries selected and composition of research teams was as follows:

1.Ethiopia:Ms. Zenebeworke Tadesse (social scientist) assisted by Ms. Geunet Meteke, Mr.Gemechu Degefa and six enumerators and supervisors.

2.Cameroon: Mr. Patrice Bigombe Logo (political scientist) assisted by Ms. Henritte-Elise Bike.

3.Nigeria: Dr. Hussaina Abdullah (social scientist) assisted by Mr. Ibrahim Hamza.

4.Senegal: Ms. Ngone Diop Tine (social scientist) assisted by Mr. Mohamed Sy.

5.Uganda: Ms. Winifred Kajura Bikaako (social scientist) assisted by Mr. John Ssenkumba.


All five sub-proposals were implemented in accordance with the integrated model of the Project.Associates for Change (a Uganda-based Consultants group on women rights issues directed by Ms. Florence Butegwa) acted as co-organizer of a workshop in Entebbe, Uganda, on 24-25 April 1998, where the five country studies were presented and discussed.After the workshop, the five lead researchers were asked to conclude their activities, and revise their final report for publication in English.

Activities during the Second Phase

During the second phase of the Project, we sought to add country studies of Mozambique and Rwanda, according to the same concept and methodology applied in the earlier five country studies.Mozambique was chosen to provide some understanding of the situation in a country that is emerging from a devastating civil war, after centuries of colonial rule by Portugal.Rwanda was included because intense competition over land is one of the underlying causes of the genocide and continuing civil war in that country.These two studies will be placed on this web site when completed.

But the main activity during the second phase has been the development and implementation of strategies for advocacy of legal and other reforms to promote the economic and social rights of women, especially in relation to ownership of or other control over land.Constructing and maintaining this web site indefinitely will hopefully continue to contribute to the realization of this objective.The other component of the advocacy and outreach stage is the sub-project implemented by the African Womenís Development and Communications Network (FEMNET) on behalf of the Women and Land project as a whole.

The sub-project being implemented by FEMNET consists of two main parts, one that relates to all the five completed studies, and another focusing on Ethiopia for developing an applied model.The long-term objectives are to contribute towards equalizing gender relations in Africa; improve the capacity of African women in negotiating for and achieving their human rights through cultural and religious transformation and promoting their ability to achieve economic independence; demonstrate the relevance of participatory research and analysis to advocacy.The immediate objectives of this program are to assist in promoting women's access to and control over land in Ethiopia; contribute towards the transformation of cultural and religious attitudes towards women's land rights in five African countries; engender and improve land regulation in Ethiopia.

The activities of the FEMNET program include developing advocacy packages from the research findings; disseminating the advocacy packages among women's community organizations, human rights organizations as well as policy-makers and executive agencies and mechanisms, both state and customary/religious mechanisms in five African countries.Regarding Ethiopia in particular, the program will hold an advocacy training workshop with women's community organizations, human rights organizations, and organizations working on civic education and legal literacy.Based on these activities, FEMNET propose to develop a national reform agenda and strategic campaigns for women's access to and control over land in Ethiopia with set policy and enforcement objectives.

FEMNET is also preparing and disseminating media materials for use at the local and national levels during the national campaign; and plan to hold advocacy workshops with the media as well as policy-making and policy-enforcement mechanisms (including customary and religious mechanisms) in Ethiopia.Apart from an introductory section briefly describing the program and its partners, the information packages include four sections for each country.In the first section, the overall status of women is discussed.The second section deals with the general context in which land regulation occurs, including a history of land regulation and related reforms.Women's land rights are then considered in the third section, based largely on the findings of our study for that country.Existing land rights of women requiring enforcement are highlighted, followed by land rights of women requiring recognition and legislation.The final section of each package contains relevant articles from international human rights law and policy, as background for the research, advocacy and communications process.

††††††††††† None of the activities undertaken throughout both phases of the Project was intended or expected to be exhaustive or comprehensive.Rather, the purpose is to develop the sort of conceptualization and methodology for influencing the course of cultural transformation in favor of greater respect for the human rights of women.To the extent that the project as a whole, and/or each of its components, can be shown to work at the limited manner and scale we are able to implement, scholars, activist and policy makers will be persuaded to apply or use it in their respective ways.