Women in Sierra Leone speak up for their right to property
[From the UN Women West Africa blog] Early in June, Sierra Leone will host a national conference, the first of its kind, on Women’s Rights to Property and Land. Plans are well underway with key stakeholders for the organization of the event.
About 70% of the women in Sierra Leone are engaged in farming yet the majority does not have rights to own land despite the numerous research that shows hoe earnings from agriculture contribute in paying for children’s school fees, medicine, clothing, etc. The Devolution of Estate Act (2007) provides protection for women to inherit their husbands’ property but it only protects women’s right to private individual property. In reality, most rural women live and work on family or community land and therefore do not enjoy the provision of this act. Sierra Leone’s national constitution compounds the problem as it states that all persons are equal under the eyes of the law, but for Section 27 4d & 4e, the constitution does not protect women as it legitimizes cultural practices which see women as the property of men, as it says “everyone is equal unless otherwise stated by customary law”.
Sarah Kamara, from the women’s movement, confirmed this lack of equity when she shared her shocking experience during one of the planning meetings organized by the Italian NGO Cooperazione International (Coopi). She described the way in which land belonging to her husband’s family was bought by one of the mining companies in the south and payment was made directly to him; “he just left me and my children with his people and went across to neighboring Guinea with his new wife”.
Civil Society Organisations in Sierra Leone are drumming up a campaign for the review of the national constitution and see it as a good time to hold their electoral candidates accountable, ahead of the November elections, for what they will deliver on ensuring women’s property rights. The debate on land grabbing is gender blind and the women’s groups are putting their foot down to be involved in the ongoing national land reform process, claiming that there is “little knowledge on the policy document with very large loop holes”.
“Government should not only focus on promoting civil and political rights but it is high time they look into preserving the social, cultural and economic rights of its citizens… and this is where we (the women) fall, this is the category that affects us most”, said Mabel Kartusche from the National Organization for Women. “We must let them know that there is a link between peace and property rights” she added.
The two-day national conference will be funded by UNDP and spearheaded by COOPI. The conference aims to promote a debate on land issues and, more importantly, provide much needed space for the voices of women to be heard and their concerns inputted to the draft policy document. Three international women land activists from Africa, including one human rights lawyer specialized in land rights from Ghana, will be brought in to share good practices and give practical examples of their notable work in this area. UN Women continues to provide support to the campaign team and to ensure that the document is gender friendly. The national conference is just one in a series of campaign activities geared towards ensuring that women have access to lands, property and justice.
Photo Credit: UN-Women