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Property Ownership Still a Man's Game

CAMEROON

Women and girls in rural parts of Cameroon face stiff challenges, grappling with widowhood rites, sexual violence, preferences for sons, and the payment of the bride price.


Adding to this list of harmful gender-based practices is women's traditional lack of access to and ownership of land. Access and control of property is a key factor of empowerment and development. Unfortunately in rural communities, the payment of a bride price means that women under customary law are themselves considered property. And this system dictates that “property cannot own property.”

Land acquisition in Cameroon comes primarily through inheritance, purchase and distribution by the state. Unfortunately, women are not favored in any of the three methods, as Mafor Brigitte, queen-mother of the Bafang community says.

“Property and inheritance rights for women remain a serious myth, while manhood is highly valorized with it. Women do not have the purchasing power. State representatives concerned with distribution of land are men who still share it in favor of men. Village and land consultative boards are purely a male affair. So it is difficult for a woman to triumph over land dispute with a man,” she said.

In Cameroon, article 1 of ordinance No 74-1 of July 1974, which established the rules governing land tenure, stipulates that, “the state guarantees to all natural persons and corporate bodies having landed property the right to freely enjoy and dispose of such lands.” 

According to a legal expert at the Ministry of State Property and Land Tenure, Abah Cletus, the law makes it clear that both women and men are entitled to land, but he regrets that most women in the villages are bound to succumb to local tradition and customs.

“It is sad that women in the rural areas still suffer from the vexing issue of land ownership due to customary laws, but the Cameroon land laws remain supreme, as it provides free access and control to all Cameroonians who meet up with the necessary requirements. It is left for women to take issues into their hands and stop such a practice.”

Cameroon Women’s Land Rights exacerbated by Dowry Related Problems

The payment of the bride price is what most reduces the women's chances to own land in Cameroon. Even though section 70(1) of the civil status Registration Ordinance stipulates that the bride price shall have no effect on the validity of marriage, the situation is very different on the field.

“With the payment of the bride price during marriage, women lose their inheritance and are considered property of other families. If her husband passes away, this new family separates her from the property, including land, and if the marriage has not produced a son, things become much more complicated for her and the family. The chances of getting a dime from her husband’s assets are limited.” Queen-Mother, Mafor Brigitte of Bafang explained.

In reality tradition and custom still trump statutory law, and the bride price is still “the be all and end all of marriage” in most regions. According to Mafor Brigitte, it is understood that without bride price the marriage is considered void, and it is valid if the payments are made. This bride price shows that the woman now belongs to the man, including all that she possesses and the other way round.

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