The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations with the International Labour Organization (ILO), in collaboration with the Government of Sierra Leone with support from the Peace Building Fund (PBF), on Thursday 11th July 2019 concluded a 2-days workshop on Gender and Land Rights within the framework of implementing the PBF project on ‘Creating Peaceful Societies Through Women’s Improved Access to Management of Natural Resources, Land Tenure Rights and Economic Empowerment in Sierra Leone.’
The workshop brought together over 40 stakeholder and traditional authorities from four (4) districts of Bombali (North), Port Loko (North West), Bo (South) and Kenema (East) were the project is being implemented. In attendance were 8 Paramount Chiefs, 16 Section Chiefs and 16 Mamie Queens. In promoting gender equality and peacebuilding in Sierra Leone, sister agency the United Nations Women (UN Women) and the office of the UN Residence coordinator participated in the workshop. The two-day interactive workshop was held at the Golden Tulip Kimbima Hotel, Aberdeen in Freetown.
The FAO Representative in Sierra Leone, in her welcome and opening remark, Dr. Nyabenyi Tipo highlighted that the objectives of the workshop was to enhanced the capacities of Traditional Authorities (especially Paramount Chiefs, Section Chiefs, and Mamie Queens) to better understand and advocate for the Peace-building Mechanisms and promoting Women’s Land and property rights in their communities.
She also stated that the workshop was to increase knowledge and awareness on global and national principles, policies and practices such the Voluntary Guideline (VGGT), the national land policy existing legal framework for securing land and property rights.
Madam Tipo further explained that the workshop will enhance their skills in Alternative to Dispute Resolution (ADR) mechanisms to address especially land conflict in their various communities. She reminded participants that although FAO is facilitating the workshop it is their responsibility to bring change to society, stating that the PBF project is linked to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which among others includes, reduce poverty, zero hunger, and gender equality and reduced inequality. She commended the Ministry of Lands, Housing and the Environment for being pivotal in the entire project.
She further revealed that the mapping of lands in some selected chiefdoms in the country has created impact with a lot of advantages and acclaimed the Office of the United Nations Resident Coordinator, Green Scenery, NAMATI, the West Africa Network for Peacebuilding (WANEP) and the Sierra Leone Labor Congress for their support and wished all a successful workshop asserting that participants must take the workshop seriously and be agents of change when they return to their respective communities by championing women’s rights.
The ILO Project Manager, Mr. Paul Mayanja, said it is a privilege for him to meet Paramount Chiefs and Traditional Leaders at the same place and time, that he is pleased to work with FAO on the peace building fund project, underscored that land is critical for development and hoped that at the end of the workshop participants would empower others on how to productively make use of land to improve their lives.
He reiterated that after knowing about land rights, participants should make land more productive as well as create jobs affirming that ILO would work with Paramount Chiefs and Traditional Leaders to make use of land, that the project would visit chiefdoms to work with the people to link markets, create jobs to improve their lives and expressed thanks to FAO for partnering with ILO and other donors to make a difference and create change in Sierra Leone.
The Representative of UN Women, Baindu Massaquoi extoled FAO and ILO for the project, she stated that women have been left behind since the end of the civil war. She recalled that they have worked with female Paramount Chiefs during the 2018 elections to increase their representation in Parliament, protection and prevention of violence against women, women’s empowerment and that they are working with the Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs to implement several treaties and agreements like the UN Security Council Resolution 1324 to protect women against violence.
According to the UN Women Programme Specialist Baindu Massaquoi, UN Women is working to give space to women, she explained that if women own land they would contribute to food security and take good care of their families. She stated that after the civil war, women’s groups advocated for equal representation in governance, to be part of decision-making process and the 30% quota to consolidate peace in the country as 51% of the population are women. Madam Massaquoi appealed to participants to be attentive and ask questions during the workshop for the development of Sierra Leone recalling that after nationwide consultations the Constitutional Review Committee created a whole chapter on women.
Ms. Simonetta Rossi, Peace and Development Advisor, Office of the UN Resident Coordinator articulated that Paramount Chiefs are the right people to discuss land rights, she hoped that the workshop would be useful and that participants would disseminate the information as well as become agents of peace and change to ensure that all have equal access to land and that the United Nations General Assembly is supporting sustainable peace in Sierra Leone to address the causes of violence.
She further dilated on what is real and positive peace, inter-ethnic conflicts, cultural violence and the absence of social services.
Mr. Jobo Samba from the Ministry of Lands gave the history of the National Land Policy that was developed by UNDP and the Government of Sierra Leone, with technical support from FAO and other partners, and approved in November 2016 after nationwide consultations.
He stated that the new policy would help to address the many challenges in the land sector, correct the mistakes of the past, address climate change and food insecurity and equal access to land intimating that the customs and traditions of the people, human dignity, gender equity, transparency and accountability and the challenges women face to access land, were all taken onboard the new policy.
He also disclosed that the main aim of the project is to create peaceful societies in Sierra Leone, commended donors for supporting land reforms in the country, that the level of participants is encouraging. He assured all present that access to land would improve in the future, that the views of participants would be taken onboard to enrich the discussion, which women are discriminated against in the two land tenure systems stressing that government can acquire land anywhere in the country for development purposes for which the owners must be compensated.
Mr. Jombo Samba went on to state that the Ministry is aware of the numerous challenges relating to land including large-scale acquisition of land, weak land administration, conflicting and overlapping land laws and urged participants to utilize the workshop to address the challenges relating to land affecting communities guaranteeing that the Ministry would go the extra-mile to fully implement the National Land Policy and the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests (VGGT) according to the country’s national development policy.
He further said that large-scale land investments must be responsible, respect human rights, promote food security, alternative livelihood and protect the environment
Dr. Samuel Mabikke, FAOs Land Tenure Officer, informed participants that this is the first Peace Building project incorporating economic empowerment of women for national cohesion and peaceful resolution asserting that ILO would concentrate on training women in economic empowerment, that the mapping of lands would be scaled-up in some areas informing that the pilot project was implemented in eight chiefdoms and 16 villages according to geographic balance–Bo, Kenema, Port Loko and Bombali.
He also stated that FAO is receiving a lot of requests to map the lands of other districts, that land includes forests and fisheries that the project is supported by the UN Secretary General and is coordinated from New York. Dr. Mabikke emphasized that Sierra Leone is rich in natural resources which, if properly utilized, would benefit the people. He stated that over $200 million worth of rice is imported annually in-spite of the country’s fertile soil, rain and abundance land revealing that over 90% of land is in the provinces and reiterated the need to empower women stressing that traditional leaders are key to peace and stability.
Mr. Joseph Brima, the Assistant FAO Representative in charge of programs commended Paramount Chiefs and traditional leaders, who are the first point of contact in the chiefdom, for attending the workshop and was optimistic that participants learnt a lot during the workshop. He emphasized that one learns every day, especially how to resolve land disputes.
He also appealed to all participants to always consult women whom he referred to as prophetesses with special gifts from God adding that sometimes women give good advice.
Other facilitators were Kadija Isata Jalloh of FAO who dilated on the topic, Securing Women’s Property Right; Past and Current, a Local Perspective; Dr. Isata Mahoi of WANEP, Women’s Land Rights in the Constitution and the National Land Policy; Responsible Management of Natural Resources in the Context of Large-Scale Land Based Investments by Mr. Joseph Rahall, Executive Director of Green Scenery and Community Land Protection-Putting the Power of Law in the Hands of the People by Mr. Daniel Sesay, Senior Program Officer, NAMATI.
Umaru Samai, Programs and Advocacy Associate, UN Women urged participants not to discriminate against women as well as advocate for their rights. Mr. Samai from UN Women together with Mr. Joseph Brima (FAO) decorated participants with the badge as he/she Ambassadors as advocates and champions for women’s rights.
Highlights of the workshop were the screening of the VGGT footage, the question and answer session, decoration of participants with the he/she badge as Ambassadors with the pledge that they would promote women’s rights and gender equality in their communities.