Women groups ask President Ellen Sirleaf of Liberia to ensure the proposed new land law in Liberia grants equal protection to land ownership rights
| By Maureen Chigbo | Mar. 24, 2014 @ 01:00 GMT
PRESIDENT Ellen Sirleaf of Liberia and Julia Duncan-Cassel, her minister of gender and development, have welcomed land reform recommendations from Central and West Africa regional organisation – African Women’s Network for Community Management of Forests, REFACOF, and Liberia’s Foundation for Community Initiatives, FCI.
As honoured guests at Liberia’s International Women’s Day Celebrations in Monrovia on Saturday, March 8, the REFACOF and the FCI presented a statement to President Sirleaf urging her to include “clear safeguards and specifics on how women’s rights to own, access, use and control land would be recognised and protected” in Liberia’s new land law, currently being vetted by Liberia’s internal vetting committee. In an open statement to participants, Cécile Ndjebet, REFACOF president, stressed the importance of securing women’s rights to land and providing equal protection of these rights to enhancing women’s status and accelerating prosperity in Liberia and across Africa. “For real political and social change to take place, there are three issues that need to be addressed, we need legislation that protects equal rights for women, mechanisms that provide for political and social equity, and a change in social and cultural perceptions of women,” Ndjebet said.
The recommendations presented were the outcomes of the third regional workshop on Gender, Climate Change, Land and Forest Tenures in Africa, co-organised by the REFACOF and the FCI, with support from the Rights and Resources Initiative, RRI. The workshop convened women participants from 16 African countries, and included donors, development partners, and issue experts. During the workshop, participants discussed the insecurity of women’s land protection in Liberia’s current land reform policy. Despite the promise made by President Sirleaf in an interview with Reuters last year, in which she stated, “women will have the full right to own their land like anyone else,” clear safeguards and specifics on how these rights would be realised in practice have yet to be included. “We must remember that action is necessary and we need more than just promises,” Solange Bandiaky-Badji, Africa programme director for the RRI, said.
In Liberia, land conflicts remain the single most explosive issue, which, if not adequately addressed, could undo years of progress. The requested policy provisions not only stand to prevent rollback, but provide a path forward in empowering women and enhancing their representation and participation in all aspects of life, not just in Liberia, but across Central and West Africa. Should REFACOF and FCI’s recommendation come to pass, they could propel land equality, and greater gender equality, across the region, in country such as Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Senegal, where land reform processes are just beginning.
To help demonstrate solidarity and apply pressure on President Sirleaf, the REFACOF garnered international support through an online petition that gathered signatures from across the globe, in six continents. As guest of honour, Julia Duncan-Cassel remarked that the celebration not only marked a day “to celebrate acts of courage and determination by ordinary women who have played an extraordinary role in the history of women’s rights” but, to further empower Liberian women at home.
Secure rights to land are a necessary step in realising equality. Not only do they enable women to combat poverty, provide food and income for their households, and protect themselves against domestic violence and the contraction of HIV/AIDs, they provide greater opportunities for women to become active participants in political and social processes. “Women have to be there to play, and to be in to win. Women need to start with registration for transformation. If women want women’s representation, they need to put them there through their vote,” Sirleaf said.
Julia Weah, executive director of the FCI, reiterated the importance of the day’s events, stating: “These are critical moments in history for women in Liberia, a game-changing moment for women’s secure ownership rights to land, and we don’t want to miss it.”
The Rights and Resources Initiative is a global coalition of 13 Partners and more than 140 international, regional and community organizations advancing forest tenure, policy and market reforms. The RRI leverages the strategic collaboration and investment of its partners and collaborators around the world by working together on research, advocacy, and convening strategic actors to catalyse change on the ground. The RRI is coordinated by the Rights and Resources Group, a non-profit organisation based in Washington, DC.
Formally established in 2010, the Network of African Women for Community Forest Management is a network created by 45 women from eight countries in West and Central Africa. On a regional scale, REFACOF is devoted to collective action by African women to cope with the social, political, legislative and economic issues related to forest management in Africa. In this process, particular attention is given to limitations on the participation of women.
Founded in Liberia in 2004, the Foundation for Community Initiatives, FCI, works with women’s groups in rural forest communities in three counties to help them gain a voice in how natural resources in their communities are managed. While women are the primary individual users of forest products in Liberia (for example, they collect and sell firewood to earn an income), they are largely absent from discussions and decision-making processes that are taking place in their communities and in the natural resources sector.