— Former Chief Justice Allison
Former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Liberia and, Cllr. Frances Johnson Allison has called for enactment of legislation that will protect women’s property rights while ensuring implementation, monitoring, and compliance.
Cllr. Allison made the assertion on Tuesday, August 4, 2020, at a one-day event on policy on women’s property rights under the law and implementations for Sexual and Gender-Based Violence law, held at a resort in Monrovia under the theme: “Action for Equality and Justice.”
Cllr. Allison named many actions that governments can take to protect women’s property rights including the launch of public awareness campaigns to inform the people about women’s equal property rights.
According to Cllr. Allison, women’s property rights are important because they are fundamental to women’s economic security, social and legal status and, sometimes, their survival.
Cllr. Allison, who served as one of the presenters, said achieving women’s equality rights with respect to the property is a critical aspect of development and social stability in post-conflict situations.
“Train judges, magistrates, police, and relevant local and national officials on laws relating to women’s equal property rights and their responsibility to enforce them. Ensure that court systems can handle women’s property right claims fairly and efficiently, and establish national legal aid systems with capacity to handle women’s civil property claims and establish shelters for domestic violence victims and women who have suffered property rights violations,” Cllr. Allison said.
Cllr. Allison who is also former chairperson of the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC) and former Chairperson of the National Elections Commission (NEC), said unequal property rights and related harmful customary practices violate international human rights law, which proscribes discrimination on the basis of sex.
“Human rights law sets out certain civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights and requires governments to respect and fulfill those rights in a non-discriminatory way. It also contains the principle of state responsibility for abuses by private actors,” she added.
Cllr. Allison named discriminatory laws, customs, biased attitudes, unresponsive authorities, and ineffective courts as some of the factors that contribute to women’s property rights violations.
Commenting on how women’s rights violations impact development, Cllr. Allison said women’s property rights contribute to low agricultural production, food shortage, underemployment, and poverty.
According to her, women’s property rights are their rights to own (through purchase, gift or inheritance) manage, administer, enjoy, and dispose of tangible and intangible property, including land, housing, money, bank accounts, livestock, crops, and pensions. She indicated that under international human rights law, women and men are entitled to equal legal protection of their property rights.
Yesterday’s program, which was organized by ActionAid Liberia with support from European Union (EU), brought together different institutions, including The Carter Center, ActionAid Liberia, Internal Affairs, Liberia Land Authority, Paramount Young Women Initiative (PAYOWI), Association of Female Lawyers of Liberia and Civil Society Organizations among others.
Izatta Nagbe, Gender and Land Specialist and a presenter at the event, said women’s participation in land governance is low and in certain cases absent in both statutory and customary systems.
Madam Nagbe said ownership to land is one of the surest guarantees of security of safety for a woman, stating “Access to land/property increases a woman’s economic viability.”
“Single women, divorcées, widows, and women from minority groups are more vulnerable to land rights being violated. When men and their power are being threatened by women’s independence to property rights, men tend to use violence. Social norms impact the ways a woman exercises her land rights,” Madam Nagbe said.
According to her, there is a belief in Liberia that women belong in the kitchen; therefore, a woman is placed in the kitchen in the home. Commenting on violence, Madam Nagbe said many violent acts are now being reported, especially in rural places or communities.
She said most women are only allowed to plant crops that will bring food or income in the home but not allowed to plant rubber, cocoa that will make them more independent.
Cllr. Ruth Jappah, chairperson, JSGB Legal Services, said ActionAid Liberia, as part of its international strategy on action for global justice has over the last months, partnered with JSGB Legal Services, AFELL, and other existing networks to conduct a comparative analysis of customary and statutory laws in order to find out how women’s rights are advanced under these legal frameworks, how they may contribute to violence against women.
“We also identified gender gaps, points of gender discrimination, and the extent to which women and men have equal access to, and benefits from legal norms through laws related to work and employment, marriage, divorce, death, and inheritance,” Cllr. Jappah said.
She said through their review, they observed that while these laws seek to advance women’s rights, they fail to achieve desired policy objectives of advancing women’s rights.
“They have implications for violence against women due to inconsistencies, ambiguities and gaps. I personally considered them as half-baked in fully protecting women,” Cllr. Jappah said.