Promoting women's rights and land ownership in Liberia
“In the past, women never owned land here but today, women, men, and youth can sit together with the elders and decide issues on land ownership,” said Wleetibo Dennis, a resident of Maryland County, Liberia.
Typically, women in Liberia have difficulty retaining land in the event of divorce or after the death of their husbands. Competition over land-related issues is one of the root causes of conflict that often leads to tension and violence among communities in Liberia. Violent conflict around land ownership is often stoked by grievances related to land scarcity and historical injustices.
To prevent and peacefully manage land-related conflicts, the Government of Liberia together with UN Women, the World Food Programme (WFP) and the UNDP) are working to strengthen coordination on land governance initiatives, implement the land decentralization policy and support alternative dispute resolution mechanisms, which provide quicker and more flexible responses to community conflicts. Funded by the UN Peacebuilding Fund (PBF) this is a part of a $4 million project implemented over three years in 42 communities across four counties of Nimba, Cape Mount, Sinoe and Maryland.
To promote a more inclusive approach to land ownership, the project focused on increasing women's understanding and knowledge of the 2018 Land Rights Act among the targeted communities. UN Women helped raised awareness of the laws related to land ownership while also specifically focusing on women’s land rights. As a result, more than 7,000 community members now have a better understanding of land rights and the process of resolving land conflict. Media campaigns on Land Rights Act also reached almost 100,000 people.
“In the past, the old law did not include us women, but the new land rights law that was passed in September 2018 allows women and youth to be a part of land discussions,” said Patricia Dennis, a resident of Kaken-Gbolobo in Maryland County.
After more than two years of continued engagement, the project contributed to a positive change in the mindsets of the communities about women’s rights to land and property ownership.
Women also received training in resolving concession-related conflicts and increasingly assumed leadership roles in the community land development and management committees. The project ensured increased participation by women in all the dialogue and conflict resolution mechanisms.
In one particular case, women leaders, empowered by the training conducted through the project effectively advocated on behalf of Madam Tumu, a widow in Flumpa, Nimba county, for property ownership after her husband’s demise. As a result, Madam Tumu successfully regained her right to land ownership from her relatives.
John Wah, chairman of the agricultural cooperative in Korsein Community, Nimba County said:
“Thanks to the learning and support from this project, our community is more peaceful as we have a better understanding of our land rights and how to resolve disputes. We also understand that women too have land rights and should not be excluded.”
Vivianne Suah, a resident of Yarsonoh Community in Nimba County said, “Through this project we started to understand women’s rights to land. It taught us that men and women and young people need to sit together and discuss land matters together. This is bringing more harmony to the community.”
The project also supports the establishment of land development and management committees, which bring together local authorities, affected communities, civil society and, where relevant, concession companies, to discuss and resolve land-related issues. So far, ten such committees have been set up, enabling people to voice their needs and demand their land usage and ownership rights.
The WFP team has been accompanying the concession-affected communities to enhance their livelihood by working with agricultural cooperatives and providing farming tools to support those most vulnerable to land loss. To date, around 450 community members, with priority given to women, have been trained on land use, and agricultural cooperatives, and provided with seeds and farming equipment.
In addition, the UNDP team has helped to strengthen the capacity of land governance institutions at national and local levels including the Liberia Land Authority, to implement tasks effectively. UNDP has also been supporting the Land Authority, hand in hand with the local civil society, in their efforts to formalize customary land rights.
Joshua Daindah, a resident of the Korsein community in Nimba County said, “With the knowledge [gained] from this project, we have established a community land committee through which we aim to resolve land conflicts in the community, especially family disputes, which we try to prevent from escalating to the formal courts.”
Richard Voker, a land committee member of Yarsonoh Community in Nimba County said:
“Some time ago I was seriously attacked by nearby community members due to a land dispute and still have scars. But awareness of land rights and dispute resolution from this project has helped me to move forward and find a way to resolve that conflict peacefully, rather than leading to more violence. We need more communities to benefit from this education and support.”
People now feel more empowered to voice their grievances and negotiate with private concession companies operating on or near their lands. In Nimba country, Nimba Rubber Incorporated compensated communities affected by the rubber industry through educational and livelihood support.
The Peacebuilding Fund has been supporting peacebuilding priorities in Liberia since 2007. The Fund helped to avoid a significant gap in the financial cliff following the withdrawal of the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) in 2018 by approving nearly $33 million between 2017-2021 to support women and youth empowerment, rule of law, transitional justice and human rights as well as land-related conflicts. Land governance continues to be a key priority of the Fund’s support in Liberia and has been included as one of three major priorities in the Fund’s Strategic Results Framework for Liberia 2022-2027.
Written by the UN Peacebuilding Fund, edited by the United Nations Development Coordination Office (DCO).
To learn more about the UN's work in Liberia, please visit Liberia.UN.org.