News / 18 September 2023

Empowering women for sustainable change in Liberia

In the heart of Liberia, the Western Region Women Network Association (WERWONA) is scripting a story of resilience, advocacy, and transformation. This journey began in September 2022 when WERWONA, supported by Both ENDS's partner Sustainable Development Institute, embarked on a mission to empower women leaders and communities in Bomi, Grand Cape Mount, and Gbarpolu counties to reclaim their rights to land and natural resources. This shows how the partnership between Both ENDS and local organisations is driving positive change in Liberia.

Formalising women's voices

The first milestone was the formalisation of WERWONA. Over a few months, this regional group was meticulously crafted, with its constitution adopted, legally incorporated and ready for action. WERWONA is the first regional women rights organisation in this region of Liberia. The foundation laid, WERWONA's focus became crystal clear: advocating for women rights in their access to land, forests, and other precious natural resources while fighting against the negative impacts monoculture tree plantations have, especially on women.

The power of raising awareness and legal education

With formalisation came education and awareness. One significant achievement was the legal education session in November 2022. Twenty-one women leaders and six local officials from the three counties gathered to gain knowledge on national and international laws. These laws govern Liberia's natural resources, particularly the land and forest sectors. The knowledge gained empowered these women to advocate more effectively. "We will not sit after hearing these teachings and don't take any action, we will demand our rights even if no body wants to hear us", said Ma Yamah, chair of the the Suen Mecca women, after the session. The women leaders put this in practice immediately by taking a more active and robust role in the decision making process of Western Cluster, one of the mining companies.about the management of social development

Monoculture tree plantations, food insecurity and sexual abuse

In Klay Town, Bomi County, history was made on September 21, 2022. WERWONA, together with the Sustainable Development Institute, organised a campaign commemorating the International Day of Struggle against Monoculture Tree Plantations. It was the first time this day was celebrated in Liberia. Women marched, presented their concerns to local authorities, and demanded a halt to the expansion of oil palm plantations that are encroaching on their lands.

The women also emphasised the dire absence of essential social services, loss of farmland, and numerous hardships experienced by women and girls near the Mano Oil Palm concession area in Liberia. Communities are left vulnerable, with high food insecurity rates, and women and girls face an alarming rise in instances of sexual exploitation, abuse, and harassment, such as rape and ritualistic killings. As Jenneh Kamukai of Cape Mount County stated: "Just in two weeks, two rape cases have been reported in Cape Mount and Bomi. If we don't take any step, the men will continue to destroy the future of our girls. I think we must not rest until these girls have justice".

Women's Forum on Land and Natural Resources

The grand finale was a women's forum in Tubmanburg, Bomi County. Women from Bomi, Cape Mount, and Gbarpolu gathered to share their experiences and challenges concerning land and natural resources. Their voices united to address issues like exclusion from discussions on land concessions, pollution of water bodies, and the destruction of forests.

A vision of sustainable change

This project's key milestones include the formation of WERWONA, advocacy initiatives, and educating women on their rights. These achievements underscore the importance of Both ENDS' partnership with with organisations like SDI which in turn, contribute to the empowerment of local organisations like WERWONA. They showcase the potential for sustainable change when women's voices are amplified, when they take up leadership not only at community level but also at national level and when communities unite for a common cause.

The story of these activities by Sustainable Development Institute and Both ENDS in Liberia is one of empowerment, education, and advocacy. As we look ahead, we are reminded that empowering women in particular and communities in general to reclaim their rights to land and natural resources is not just a project; it's a movement towards a more equitable and sustainable future for all, paving the way for change, one milestone at a time.

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