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Sierra Leone

Shining a light for women’s rights in Sierra Leone

Celebrating International Women's Day by showcasing triumphs in women's empowerment and land ownership in Sierra Leone.

Memuna Sesay during a women’s group meeting in Bombali, Sierra Leone. Photo: Trócaire. Memuna Sesay during a women’s group meeting in Bombali, Sierra Leone. Photo: Trócaire.

In the heart of Sierra Leone, women are challenging deep-rooted norms and rewriting their story of empowerment. Battling the age-old belief that land ownership is reserved for men, the communities of Bombali are experiencing a transformative shift. On this International Women’s Day, we turn our focus to a project which empowers women to reclaim their rights, break barriers through education, and cultivate newfound confidence.

‘Men had the mindset that women should not own land and women had a lack of confidence and education.’ says Memuna Sesay, Chairlady and a leader of the Women’s Farmers Group in her community in Bombali, Sierra Leone. 

For too long, women in Sierra Leone have been denied access, ownership, and control of land due to traditional beliefs. To overcome this belief, Trócaire worked with three local organisations: ADD-SL, DESAL and WOFHRAD with financial support from the EU and worked to advocate for women’s rights to own land. 

This was part of a larger EU funded project which reached 50 communities across four chiefdoms. The programme targeted an average of 20 women, 5 male farmers and 3 community facilitators in each village over a 40-month period. 

Community facilitators were recruited from within each community to teach adult literacy and women’s land rights. The traditional leaders were approached with respect and sensitivity emphasising that the project was not confrontational. The project engaged with communities through training sessions and sensitisation programmes, emphasising the voluntary nature and its benefits for community. 

 

‘Through constant community engagements and literacy classes, we have been able to gain our rights and the confidence we needed to learn and advocate for our rights to own land’ Memuna says.

‘We were part of a programme that was held in Freetown’ says Memuna Sesay, ‘because I was uneducated, I did not know what to do with the documents others read. I used these documents to fan myself because I couldn’t spell. Now I can identify and spell my name.

They have shown us the light. Before now, women were uneducated. Before now we were unable to write our names and we could not speak in public. We were trained, women have the right to own land as men do. We were being told by men that we have no rights to own lands and we should only concentrate on our homes. We learnt that we all have an equal right to land ownership.

Memuna Sesay and Kadiatu Fornah are in charge of their local women’s group as community training facilitators. The group was installed and supported by Trócaire partner WOFHRAD. Photo: Trócaire. Memuna Sesay and Kadiatu Fornah are in charge of their local women’s group as community training facilitators. The group was installed and supported by Trócaire partner WOFHRAD. Photo: Trócaire.

‘I was an illiterate. I could not spell my own name.’ says Kaidatu Fornah, ‘Men took advantage over us. The men would sell our land without our knowledge and we could not speak up against this. If you ask, they tell us, we have no rights.’

One of the challenges we faced with older women, some who have never been to school. They had this kind of thought; ‘can we do it? How is it possible?’

Memnua continues, ‘with the project we gathered different women from different villages in our community. We would go from one village to another village and taught them about their rights. We also invited men during these meetings, where we explained our rights to land ownership.

Emiliana Kamara Jengo from Trócaire partner WOFHRAD, says, ‘for traditional leaders, we made them understand, this project is not in any way trying to let women stand against them. We use a lot of engagement as a strategy to get them to understand that it’s not confrontational. We are not there to confront them but we are are there to make them understand.’

Fatima Kamara of WOFHRAD adds, ‘at a district level, we would read out to them the policy about land, how women should have access to land to control or even own land for themselves.

Marie B J Sesay speaking to her Community Training Facilitators group during their meeting. Photo: Trócaire Marie B J Sesay speaking to her Community Training Facilitators group during their meeting. Photo: Trócaire

‘We were taught our rights as women and that we could address a public gathering. Before now were always at the backyard. We could not attend any public events or programmes,’ explains Kadiatu. ‘I got my rights back. I can speak to a large crowd now.

These impactful projects have been made possible through the GAUGED CIVIL programme, which stands for the EU’s Governance Accountability Under Gender Empowered Development by Civil Society programme. This initiative exemplifies the potential for positive change in Sierra Leone’s women’s empowerment journey.

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