No doubt, atop Liberia’s bulky list of major problems which include but not limited to lack of safe drinking water, a shattered health delivery system, and acute unemployment, especially within the youthful population, is land issues, which themselves include displacement of local communities related to government land concessions for logging, mining, and large-scale agriculture; urban poverty; and women’s land rights.
Liberia’s 1986 Constitution has in it enshrined that women and men share the same rights of acquiring, possessing and protecting property – howbeit, women’s access to and decision-making power as far as land and resources are concerned, have remained highly vulnerable and limited throughout the country.
It is an open secret that in Liberia, it a generally accepted fact that women most often than not, carry the burden to feed the family, and following the country’s internecine gun battles households headed by women have become common-place.
In 2018, the Legislature passed into law, the long-awaited Land Rights Act which formally recognizes and protects customary land tenure and women’s rights to land – howbeit, mounting challenges and constraints regarding land issues continue to persist – even in spite of an existing legal framework to guide the sector, inconsistencies and customs make these laws difficult to apply and mostly women’s access to justice is limited, especially in rural areas.
Also, the 2018 Land Rights Act recognized customary land ownership and provided a legal mechanism for rural communities to secure land tenure. The Act requires communities to include women and youth representatives as equal partners in local land governance structures.
Additionally, despite these existing legal provisions, discriminatory gender norms prevent women from speaking about and participating in political matters in rural communities, where village leadership roles are always largely held by men.
Worth mentioning is the lack of community-led land governance tools, a situation that has over the years continue to leave many rural communities, and particularly women, stripped of their rights to forests or viable agricultural land.
These and many more are the reasons why, we at the Women Voices, are elated to doff out our hats to the USAID and its partner, the Sustainable Development Institute (SDI), for a job well done aimed at initiating the USAID-funded Integrated Land and Resource Governance (ILRG) programme, which supports improved land use planning for wildlife and forestry sectors, low-cost and accessible land documentation for communities, and strategies to secure land rights, especially for women.
The USAID-ILRG program, we are told, also develops opportunities for communities to benefit from sustainable natural resource management, using the method of encouraging outspoken and politically active women to gather and agree who among them would run for election for the leadership positions of their Community Land Development and Management Committee – the body responsible for making decisions on land management and use in rural communities.
Through the ILRG programme, the Community Land Development and Management Committee, which are all-women gatherings intended to discuss leadership within the Committee, and these discussions, are part of a broader strategy to increase the participation of women in community land governance.
In this vein, we call on women across the country, to seize every ounce of the opportunity be afforded them by USAID and SDI, to be eager to lead and to represent the voices of the countless of voiceless women, who have for so long been marginalized, knowing that USAID and its partner have created a clear space where women will sit at the same table with their male counterparts.
Finally, we applaud the USAID, for its continued work geared towards strengthening inclusive land governance in Liberia for more than a decade now – which also witnessed a recent impact evaluation of USAID-led customary land interventions that show that this type of governance is novel for many communities, with the caveat that behavior change does not happen overnight.