ActionAid Liberia (AAL) says cultural norms and patriarchal values in the Liberian society continue to marginalize women and place them in constrained positions, compared to men and boys in the same class, ethnic, age or other relations.
Lakshmi S. Moore, AAL Country Director, made the statement yesterday during the launch of a baseline report on women from Margibi, Nimba, Grand Bassa, Grand Gedeh and Gbarpolu counties.
Mrs. Moore said though some chapters of the Liberian Constitution (Articles 8, 11, and 18) prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender, there are other factors that limit women’s roles and participation in decision-making, from household to community and national processes.
She named some of these factors as traditional practices, lower social status such as the education level and economic inequality.
Mrs. Moore said women are severely affected by these unequal power relations, prohibiting their voices, participation, needs and access; increasing their vulnerability to sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV).
The objective of the survey is to improve the capacity of women to meaningfully participate in forest governance processes, and contribute to the assessment and monitoring of the Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) impact on gender relations and gender-related livelihoods opportunities.
The report, launched under the theme, “Promoting Women and Community Rights in Forest Governance and Management in Liberia,” brought together over 35 women from various counties and partners, including those from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), UKaid, Sweden Sverige and European Union (EU).
“This unequal status of women limits meaningful participation in community forest governance bodies even with the law stipulating that at least one woman should be a member of each of these bodies,” Mrs. Moore said.
Accordingly, the baseline report indicates that men are the key decision-makers in matters relating to the land and forest governance in the baseline communities and in general; women face structural barriers to participation caused by cultural, traditional dynamics, capacity issues, and gender livelihood, household roles and relationships.
The report indicates that women have limited knowledge of the different species of trees/wood that are suited for charcoal production, while women at the community level had limited market information on the prices of charcoal in urban centers, which often leads to their exploitation by middlemen and other players in the industry.
According to Mrs. Moore, gender inequality with respect to control over land in rural Liberia serves as a disadvantage to women’s engagement in charcoal production, and represents a barrier to entry into the sector.
“Major players at the stage of plank production are men, because women have limited resources to compete with their male counterparts at this stage. Women indicated that land rights, the lack of agencies within their communities and lack of access to finance, limit their involvement at the production stage of planks,” she said.
Mrs. Moore said scarcity of resources affect women more than men in general, because men control more lucrative income-generating activities in the forest, particularly the extractive activities, to the extent that women have limited knowledge on laws, policies and regulations that guarantee their rights to land.
Alberto Menighini, Head of Cooperation Section-Resilience of the EU in partnership with FAO and who launched the report, said the organization will work with the Forestry Development Authority (FDA), ensuring that some of the issues raised in the report are addressed.
Mr. Menighini expressed gratitude that women can raise concerns on participation and decision-making processes that will improve their lives and the development of the country.
Meanwhile, the women have expressed excitement over the report and, therefore, called on AAL and its partners to ensure that their voices are heard in decision-making as well as participation.