Enforcement and Protection of Equality in Civil Society: Ownership and administration of property in Sierra Leone

Submitted by gOwino on Mon, 2013-12-23 17:33
Revised by cheid on Mon, 2014-06-30 14:35

Civil society institutions appear to play an active role in pushing forward the women’s property rights agenda in Sierra Leone.1 For instance, Women’s Partnership for Justice and Peace, a Sierra Leone-based institution, works on a variety of women’s human rights and economic security issues, of which land rights is an integral part. International non-governmental organizations (“NGOs”) have also been active in the area of women’s property rights. In 2012, Cooperazione Internazionale (“COOPI”) and the United Nations Development Programme (“UNDP”), among others, came together to hold a national conference titled Women’s Rights to Property and Land.2 The conference, the first of its kind in the country, brought over 160 participants together to share best practices and discuss challenges women face in access to property.3 Conference attendees also provided input to a draft policy document that civil society organizations were planning on using to inform a review of the Constitution.4 As it was prior to the November 2012 elections at that time, civil society members also planned to use the policy document to hold electoral candidates accountable for what they would deliver regarding women’s property rights.5 The national conference was just one in a series of activities related to ensuring that women have equal access to property rights and justice mechanisms in the country.6

Several groups have also attempted to increase public awareness around existing property laws such as the 2007 Devolution of Estates Act.  For example, the Coalition of Women’s Movement has engaged in efforts to sensitize at least one district about inheritance rights, including educating women and traditional authorities.7 The Movement for the Restoration of Democracy has also engaged in educational efforts by using radio programs to inform the population about inheritance rights.8

However, government-mandated barriers present institutional challenges to the work of civil society organizations. First, NGOs must sign an “Agreement” with the Government of Sierra Leone before they can commence operations, which could create room for the Government to ban or otherwise delay the activity of certain NGOs who engage in controversial projects.9 In addition, NGOs are subject to stringent reporting and government oversight requirements.10 For example, NGOs must submit details of “all funds committed by donors for project implementation,” such as the amount committed, sources of funding, and any other details of the donors’ installment arrangements or requirements.11 While there are two other classifications that civil society institutions may select (not-for-profit companies and community-based organizations) which have less oversight requirements and more autonomy than NGOs, they do not receive the same tax benefits that NGOs receive.12