A group whose goal is to protect and promote the rights of women in Southeastern Liberia was formed recently at a regional women’s conference held recently in Greenville, Sinoe County.
The new Land Right Act of Liberia provides for women to own and have a share in properties that are the inheritance of their parents, something that rarely happened or has not been happening in the patriarchic culture of Liberia.
The South Eastern Regional Women Platform for Land Rights (SERWP) will meet twice a year to share experiences and develop joint actions to promote, protect and advance women’s rights in the region, according to a declaration by delegates at the conference. The 35 women delegates came from host Sinoe, as well as Maryland, Grand Kru, and Rivercess counties.
Women’s rights actors from the four counties as well as River Gee and Grand Gedeh—under SERWP—will engage the local and national government, civil society and other partners to strengthen the collaboration among women in the region and ensure that women are involved in promoting and popularizing Liberia’s new land law. The group added that it will establish channels of communication for information sharing between rural women and civil society organizations in the region.
“We, the delegates attending this conference, commit ourselves to act collectively to foster women’s rights in the region, recognizing that effective implementation of the land rights laws, especially the provision on women’s rights, will be crucial in ensuring protection for women’s rights to use, management and ownership of land,” the resolution read.
The Land Rights Act was praised across the world for recognizing women’s ownership of land when it was passed into law last year. However, there are implementation challenges, including convincing rural communities to change traditional practices that have denied women’s right to own land for generations, experts say.
“When it comes to land and natural resource governance generally, women are at the back seat in terms of rights, control and access while their male counterparts are in the driving seat,” said SDI Coordinator Nora Bowier. “This is due to unfair traditional norms, unequal opportunity regarding benefits and employment between men and women, exclusion of women and the poor from decision and policymaking.”
Women’s rights are guaranteed with the passage into law of the Land Rights Act, and they can take ownership of the land governance process enshrined in the law, said Bowier.
“With the different land-based activities going on, this region needs strong locally based organizations that can help harness the work of national NGOs going on in the region,” Bowier added.
The women are enthusiastic about forming this network but they recognized that partnership and support of national NGOs will be critical to help strengthen them in engaging relevant processes and stakeholders,” Said Morris Nyain program officer leading the project.
The southeast hosts a number of concessions, including Golden Veroleum Liberia (GVL), Maryland Oil Palm Plantation (MOPP) Equatorial Palm Oil (EPO) and Forest Ventures as well as a hub of artisanal mining activities.
The women’s delegates at the conference, therefore, recommended that women be placed at the center of such concession land lease agreements. They called for women and other marginalized people’s rights to be respected and guaranteed equal in equally participating in natural resource management with a specific focus on land.
They also called for “awareness and training on the land rights law, specifically for women to have access to information on land rights so that women are empowered to seek redress in cases of violations of women’s land rights.”
They rallied for support of more women participation in the House of Representatives and other areas of decision-making to promote women’s voices and visibility, and to engage in customary leadership to discuss about land governance issues.
The conference was the last event under the “Supporting Customary Tenure Rights to Engender Local Livelihood and Food Security” project. The US$150,000 project was awarded by the Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA)to the Sustainable Development Institute (SDI) in October 2016.
The project should have ended in 2018 but was extended for an additional one year after the enactment of the new land law. It has two objectives: to increase rural communities understanding on the land rights law, and to strengthen rural communities’ ownership and control over their customary lands and resources.
Before the Greenville final conference, a number of events targeting women, youth and students took place in Barclayville, Grand Kru; Pleebo, Maryland; Yarpah Town, River Cess and in Greenville.