Thursday, 24 July 2014

Sierra Leone News: WoNES calls for Women’s Rights to Land

The Program Coordinator of the Women’s Network for Environmental Sustainability (WoNES), an affiliate member of a larger and inclusive noble institution including the 50/50 Group, has called for the right of women to own land.
This was affirmed at a ‘Citizens’ Conference on Land and the Constitution’ organized by Green Scenery on 23rd and 24th June 2014 at the National Stadium in Freetown. WoNES is a national, non-partisan, non-governmental organization that seeks to have more women and communities involve in identifying, designing and implementing mitigation and adaptation measures to address environmental degradation and climate change in Sierra Leone.
In her statement, Nabeela Tunis extended appreciation to the organizers of the conference for allowing WoNES to add its voice to the forum on the topical issue of women’s rights to land underscoring that the organization considers the event timely because as a nation, “we are in the process of reviewing our Constitution. This is a unique opportunity for us to make the fundamental Constitutional reforms to reflect our evolved needs and priorities as well as address contemporary matters.”
According to the WoNES Program Coordinator, research has been conducted in Sierra Leone on women and land that highlights a worrying degree of abuse of their rights to land ownership and use articulating that publications released by Action Aid, COOPI, Oxfam and Green Scenery, supported by national organizations, have portrayed vivid and practical instances of various levels of abuse, some of which are unbelievable.
She continued that WoNES works with women in rural communities and has keenly followed Environmental Social and Health Impact Assessments (ESHIA) processes on large-scale foreign mining and agricultural investments adding that the organization has observed that women play important roles in farming (both for food production and for sale) and cottage industry.
Nabeela Tunis further disclosed that these activities are largely dependent on access to land intimating that women are also responsible for household welfare, especially nurturing of children and caring for the sick and aged pointing out that the lack of access to land under the customary law system, further exacerbated by large-scale acquisition of land by foreign companies and the subsequent degradation of land resources through their operations, has profound consequences on women, children and the aged as they constitute the most vulnerable in rural communities.
WoNES sources indicate that although the strategic importance of women in rural communities is now widely acknowledged, they are still excluded from the planning, policy formulation, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of land issues in Sierra Leone.
Also, there is the tendency for the interests of foreign companies in land investment opportunities to override the importance of ensuring that the associated environmental, social and health impacts are given appropriate attention.
She continued to articulate that Sierra Leone is currently operating under a dual land tenure system and that customary law applies in 12 out of the country’s 14 Districts reiterating that customary and traditional norms continue to prevent women from accessing land informing that Section 27 (4) (d) and (e) of the 1991 Constitution limits women’s rights.
She quoted the 1991 Constitution as stating that every person is equal under the law except where customary law states otherwise revealing that women represent 52% of the population with a good chunk being rural women who rely on their lands for theirs and their families’ sustenance adding, “imagine the anguish and despair these woman face when encountered with such discrimination. Does our current Constitution protect them? I would think not.”
She further disclosed that if we are committed to reducing poverty, enhancing food security and good governance, we need to increase women’s access to land, that this is the common objective and we need the support and participation of all stakeholders to sustain a robust and united front to achieve this goal.
Staff members of WoNES, including Nabeela Tunis, Gertrude Karimu and Ranita S. Koroma, have also concluded a month-long visit to communities and schools in Port Loko, Pujehun and Bo Districts, Western Rural District, Tongo and Sierra Rutile to raise awareness on environmental degradation and climate change.
The activities were in support of the World Environment Day and conducted in collaboration with the various Districts based partner organizations and Focal Persons.
Furthermore, WoNES members distributed leaflets to the students which contained commonly used terms and basic information on climate change and environmental degradation.
WoNES will continue to support the EPA-SL and national efforts to promote a safer environment in Sierra Leone.
By  Saffa Moriba
Friday July 11, 2014


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