3-Day Women’s Confab Gender, Climate Change Opens in Monrovia

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A three-day gathering of women from across Africa and other parts of the world began Tuesday, March 4, in Monrovia with a call for them to play a leading role in decision making.

The women are attending a workshop on the theme, “Securing Women’s Land and Forest Property Rights.” It runs from February 4 to 6, 2014, at a resort in Monrovia. It is the third, and a series of last regional workshop being held on Gender, Climate Change, Land and Forest Tenures in Africa that brought together a conglomeration (assembly) of women’s organizations.

A consultant at the Ministry of Gender and Development, Ina Christensen who proxy for Gender Minister Juila Duncan-Cassell said the issue of gender equality and women’s empowerment is paramount to the mandates of her ministry.

She then informed the women gathering that the MoGD was aware that climate change and its negative impact threatens the efforts of sustainable development and the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) particularly the ones that have to do with women and girls empowerments.
According to her, the ministry holds strongly that women should participate and play key role in all forms of decision-making processes, which she believes has affected their wellbeing including the climate change and management of natural resources.

In Ms. Christensen believes, women and children are the most vulnerable with regards to the impact of climate change, conflict and disasters.

Women at the three-day seminar are from a cross-section of the various organizations including the African Women’s Network for Community Management of Forests (REFACOF), Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI), the Foundation for Community Initiatives (FCI), Association of Female Lawyers of Liberia (AFELL), and Women Organizing for Change in Agriculture and Natural Resources Management (WOCAN&NRM), among others.

REFACOF, for example, is represented by its president, Mrs. Cècile Ndjebet, while RRI and FCI are represented each by Dr. Solange Bandiaky Badji and Mrs. Julie Weah respectively.

For Mrs. Weah, who is also the vice president of REFACOF-Liberia, despite women increased reliance on natural resources as compared to their men folks, they (women) have less access to and control over natural resources.

She opined that women and girls are systematically marginalized and discriminated against through patriarchal power relations that combine with other systems of subordinating and exploitative social relations to place them in even more constrained positions than men and boys in the same class, ethnic, age or other relations.

On the objective of the three-day gathering, REFACOF President, Mrs. Ndjebet said, the exercise is to support the promotion of women’s rights via capacity-building on issues of gender, land and forest rights in African in the context of climate change, notably REDD+, land and forest reforms in Africa. It focuses mainly on the advocacy for greater consideration of te gender dimension in on-going reforms and their implementation; support to rural and indigenous women to have access to judicial services; raising awareness of men and women for a change of mentality ad the eradication of inequalities/inequities in society; diversifying the economic activities of women so that they generate income for the acquisition of goods and services thereby enabling them to improve on their livelihoods and those of their households.

According to Mrs. Ndjebet, for REFACOF, the recognition of women property rights to land and forests in Central and West Africa is an important contribution for improving the living conditions of women and sustainable management of forest resources.

REFACOF, she said, is a regional network composed of 16 West and Central African countries including Madagascar. It was created under the auspices of mission of the international conference on the tenure held in Cameroun in May 2009. The mission of the entity is to promote women’s rights in Africa and advocate, to shape policies and practices for gender equity in relation to land and forest tenure.

For her part, RRI’s Africa Program Director, Dr. Solange Bandiaky Badji said, the ongoing three-day workshop is the third her organization has supported. The RRI, she remembers, has also supported REFACOF to develop a five-year strategic plan beginning from 2011-2015 with focus on strengthening the network, promoting reforms of equitable tenure arrangements as well as influencing the policy agenda and interventions, thereby promoting land and forest tenure at regional, sub-regional and national levels, and at the same time, facilitating experience exchanges among the network members.

As of the workshop being hosted in Liberia, she disclosed that Liberia is the only country now left in West Africa that has the largest forested areas.

Therefore, it has the potential to become a leader in Central and West Africa in upholding the underlying customary land and forest rights of communities and establishing more pro-poor enterprise models.

RRI collaborators in Liberia are supporting communities and women leaders to provide inputs to the legal drafting process and implementation of the policy.

Other partners included Green Advocates, Women’s Environment and Development Organization (WEDO) from New York, among others.

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