By Kieran Guilbert
DAKAR, March 8 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Rural women across West Africa will march to demand equal land rights on Tuesday to mark International Women's Day, as activists urge African nations to invest in female farmers.
Women in the region lack secure access to land and find their rights under threat as such land laws as there are limited and are often ignored, organisations such as Oxfam, ActionAid and the ONE campaign said.
Female farmers and agriculture workers are widely unaware of such laws, are outnumbered in local committees and positions of power and are absent from key decisions, the organisations said.
In Senegal, women know how to apply for land ownership, yet only group applications are accepted and only a very small percentage of the requests are granted, according to the Prospective Agricultural and Rural Initiative (IPAR).
"Since women are underrepresented in local decision making, they find themselves doubly disadvantaged," said Cheikh Omar Ba, representative for IPAR, a Dakar-based thinktank.
Women are demanding their land rights in Burkina Faso, Ghana, Mauritania and Niger in the "My land, my life" campaign - four years after International Women's Day was dedicated to empowering rural women, and ending poverty and hunger.
In sub-Saharan Africa, women make up more than half of the agricultural workforce, yet fewer than one in five own farms, according to the United Nations World Food Programme (FAO).
"If women farmers had the same means and facilities as their male counterparts, they could increase crop yields by 20 to 30 percent and help prevent millions of people from starving", said Kafui Kuwonu from Women in Law and Development in Africa.
The organisations called on West African nations to enforce land laws and enact reforms at regional levels to give women fair representation in decision making, protect them from land grabs and ensure they have the means to access and secure land.
"Having access to land for women is not enough if public funding targeting rural women is not made available or if access to credit for women is not easy", said Oulie Keita from ONE.
More than 90 countries still give women fewer rights to own land than men, keeping food production below its potential and weakening efforts to tackle poverty, according to Rwanda's former agriculture minister.
(Reporting By Kieran Guilbert, editing by Tim Pearce. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit news.trust.org)
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