Traditional leaders are the gatekeepers of African customs and traditions. Traditional leaders had great influence pre-democracy and continue to yield the same influence particularly in rural areas post democracy. In countries such as South Africa and Zimbabwe where traditional law is legally recognised – aligning traditional laws with gender equality is pivotal.
These leaders should be targeted and identified as agents of change. They can grant women access to equitable and arable land. They could also bring social development and justice to women through equitable hearings and judgments. Traditional leaders have the power and influence to shape traditional and cultural norms to be inclusive and equitable. Traditional leaders play a large role in ending gender-based violence. Many rural women are abused with no hope of help from police and social workers because of the geographical and infrastructural challenges. Here traditional leaders can step in to mediate and assist women affected by gender-based violence. Another plague ravaging rural communities is child marriages. Child marriages are rife and in some cases, customs and norms of that region encourage men to marry underage girls. Traditional leaders can end child marriages by outlawing the custom in the region and rescuing child brides. Holistically they pose as great examples for men and boys to follow in the community.
Men continue to hold ownership and access to resources and property. Engaging men on women empowerment is necessary for women to have access to resources and property. A large aspect concerning rural women empowerment in Africa is land ownership. According to FAO women make up almost 50 percent of the agricultural labour force in sub-Saharan Africa (http://www.fao.org/docrep/013/am307e/am307e00.pdf). However the female land ownership is minimal. Traditional leaders, as change agents have the ability to recognise and bestow female land ownership. Furthermore recognition of female inheritance and succession can be recognised through the development of traditional laws to align with Constitutional values of equality and fairness.
Traditional leaders remain critical figures in rural Africa. National committees and NGOs should mark these leaders as agents of change. They hold the clout and power to align traditional laws and cultural practices with human rights and constitutional norms. These leaders are also able to influence and enlighten men on gender equality and human rights. Traditional leaders have the potential to empower women and effect change in remote areas of Africa.
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