Law Reform Efforts: Ownership and administration of property in Sierra Leone

Submitted by gOwino on Mon, 2013-12-23 16:50
Revised by cheid on Mon, 2014-06-30 14:29

In 2007, Sierra Leone told the CEDAW Committee that the "Government is aware that many of its laws are old and therefore need reform to catch up with modern trends especially as it is a signatory to many international Conventions including CEDAW.”1 The Government has taken some steps at reform in order to bring its laws up to par with the Convention. In 2003, the Government revived the Law Reform Commission to reform the laws of Sierra Leone, statutory or otherwise, taking into consideration international conventions and treaties as appropriate.2 As of July 2013, the Constitution was still in the process of being reviewed to bring it up to date with relevant economic, social and political developments.3 However, the recommendations of the Law Reform Commission are not binding. For example, the Constitution would take a national referendum to change or repeal, and the Government has stated that it has no funds to undertake such a process.4 The only thing left now is thus the political will to see these laws come into effect."5

While the Law Reform Commission has indicated support for reforming laws that discriminate against women, their actual commitment and political will for moving this agenda forward is not clear. As a result, reforms have been moving at a slow pace. Members of Parliament did introduce a Gender Equality Bill that would have mandated political parties and the Government of Sierra Leone to nominate and appoint at least 30% of women in politics and public decision-making spaces, but this Bill did not pass Parliament in the 2007-2012 Session.6  An Anti-Human Trafficking Act was passed, however, in 2005 thanks in part to pressure from international donors.7 As such, there is evidence that concerted pressure from donors could persuade the Government to take action on gender-related legislation.

The Government has also taken steps to implement non-legislative reforms. The Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender, and Children’s Affairs has implemented the Sierra Leone National Gender Strategic Plan, a four-year (2010 to 2013) strategic framework that includes sensitization programs around the country targeting traditional birth attendants (“TBAs”) and rural assemblies of women composing community wellness advocacy groups (“CAGs”). The TBAs and CAGs, among other things, ensure that women are aware of their rights under the Devolution of Estates Act.8However, there have not been sensitization programs to complement the reform process for more gender equality laws to galvanize traditional and religious leaders and a critical mass of women towards transforming the existing status quo. As a result, many women remain unaware of their rights and therefore cannot claim them nor access the justice system where they exist.9

Civil Society Organizations (“CSOs”) have also participated in encouraging law reform efforts, as discussed in more detail below. For example, CSOs have helped to launch a national campaign to develop national approaches to women’s rights to property and access to justice in Sierra Leone.10