Sierra Leone, Liberia in new UN report on women and natural resources

In the stories that get told about mining in Sierra Leone, you rarely get to hear about female artisanal miners. Mining is often shown as a man’s work. The case study in the UN report on women and natural resources suggests that in 2008 (the latest period for which information is available) an estimated 90% of alluvial miners were women. While this seems quite high, it may be that the men have been pulled to the urban centers to look for work as mining activity transitions to heavy mechanisation.


UN Report on Women and Natural Resources

This report focuses on the relationship between women and natural resources in conflict-affected settings, and discusses how the management of natural resources can be used to enhance women’s engagement and empowerment in peacebuilding processes. Part I of the report examines the relationship between women and natural resources in peacebuilding contexts, reviewing key issues across three main categories of resources: land, renewable and extractive resources. Part II discusses entry points for peacebuilding practitioners to address risks and opportunities related to women and natural resource management, focusing on political participation, protection and economic empowerment.

Women’s participation in the artisanal mining sector in post-conflict Sierra Leone

During the civil war in Sierra Leone, which lasted from 1991 to 2002, over 100,000 people lost their lives, at least two million were displaced and the economy contracted an average of 4.5 per cent annually.124 Although the conflict contributed to pervasive poverty across the entire population, women were – and continue to be – particularly affected by a multitude of factors, including high maternal mortality, low life expectancy, exclusion from land tenure and ownership, and limited access to credit.

In Sierra Leone today, women mostly work within the informal sector, with approximately 66 per cent of the female labor force engaged in agriculture.125 To supplement their income as the economy recovers, many women have increasingly sought alternative opportunities as informal traders or artisanal miners, especially in the mineral and diamond-rich northern and eastern areas of the country: in 2008, it was estimated that in some areas up to 90 per cent of small-scale alluvial gold prospectors were women.126 Women have also taken on roles in the service economy operating around the mines, such as the production and provision of food.

Although artisanal mining can provide women with additional options for generating income, it can also exacerbate inequities and have secondary effects on surrounding forests and land, with negative impacts on women’s livelihoods in rural agriculture. Unregulated mining in the eastern and southern regions of the country, for example, has resulted in widespread deforestation and land degradation. Moreover, women are often marginalized at mining sites as a result of competing interests. Indeed, women’s ability to capitalize on these alternative livelihood strategies depends on their access to different levels and combinations of assets, including land – yet men tend to hold and control most of the required assets, with the result that the benefits derived from artisanal mining primarily accrue to them.

Revisiting existing land tenure legislation such as the Devolution of Estates Act (2007)127 will be necessary to enhancing protection for rural women working on family or chieftaincy-governed land, and improving women’s empowerment in both agriculture and artisanal mining.

Women’s participation in decision-making on forest management in Liberia 

During the Liberian civil wars, from 1989 to 2003, revenue from timber exports was frequently used to finance arms.128 As a result, the UN imposed sanctions on Liberian logs and timber in 2001, which were lifted in 2006 when President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf issued a moratorium on industrial logging and timber exports and cancelled all forest concession agreements, pending the passage of appropriate forestry legislation.129

Two pivotal forestry laws were subsequently passed by the Liberian government: the 2006 National Forest Reform Law and the 2009 Community Rights Law (CRL). The latter created the legal framework for community engagement in forest management (using community forest management plans, among other tools).130 The CRL also provided for the establishment of a Community Forestry Management Body (CFMB), a five-member entity that manages the day-to-day activities of community forest resources and oversees a Community Forest Fund that holds funds accrued from forestry activities, including fees and fines. The law states that at least one member of the body should be a woman.131 Critics argue, however, that this provision is not strong or affirmative enough to ensure the equal representation of women in key decision-making.132

Indeed, the decisions of CFMBs can have broad implications for women and their access to forest resources. For example, the granting of palm oil concessions can reduce the availability of agricultural land, thus impacting food security, for which women are primarily responsible. In some cases, actual or potential loss of farmland has resulted in localized conflicts between communities and the companies managing the concessions.133

In Liberia today, women remain grossly under-represented in management structures for the forest sector. In none of the 17 established CFMBs are there more than two female members of the Community Forest Development Committee, out of ten in total. This limited representation makes it difficult for women to influence decision-making processes, especially in a culture where men have traditionally been in charge of leading and making decisions on behalf of the community.

Full Report:

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