Overcoming obstacles to women's land tenure security in Guinea
As Guinea launches a new reform of its land governance, Nentébou Barry, director of C-DEV, an NGO that campaigns for the rights of vulnerable populations, recounts her organisation’s successful efforts to strengthen women's access to land by giving them a voice.
Oumou Diallo is married and has eight children. She chairs the Mounanfangny women's group in Katougouma, in Northwest Guinea’s Boké prefecture. The group was initially set up to organise tontines, which are communal cash pots distributed to each member in turn for their personal needs.
Like many other women in Mounanfangny, Oumou grows market crops in the dry season and subsistence crops in the rainy season. She sells part of her harvest at the weekly market and uses the rest to support her family.
With mining projects emerging in the area and the resulting expropriation of land, the women in the group have seen their access to land threatened by overpopulation, speculation, infrastructure development and other forms of land pressure.
Precarious access to land
Although mining has been carried out in Boké since the early 1970s, it is only since around 2015 that it experienced a real boom. Around 15 mining companies now operate there. These extractive activities put huge pressure on land, and particularly on land used for agriculture, which threatens the livelihoods and food security of local communities. Because their access to land is so precarious, women are first to be impacted by these pressures.
Indeed, according to customary practices, which are highly prevalent in rural areas, women typically have only insecure access to land and cannot own it.
This was the case for Oumou Diallo and the women in the group, whose access to land was through informal loans and without any legal documentation. Furthermore, the legal land tenure framework is poorly adapted to the actual circumstances of rural communities, and leaves women further exposed.
An integrated approach to secure women's rights
I co-founded the women's organisation Creativité et Développement (C-DEV) in 2018 to promote the economic, social and cultural rights of vulnerable populations in areas affected by major development projects in Guinea. In 2020, noting the fragility of women's land rights in Boké, C-DEV set out to reinforce the structure and community dynamics of groups affected by mining activities, with the aim of helping women to collectively secure their land rights.
After carrying out a short study in the area with the NGO ACORD (a member of the Collectif des OSC pour la Défense des Droits des Communautés – CODEC, of which C-DEV is also a member) to gain a better understanding of the challenges women faced, we ran a series of activities based on our findings.
First, we organised awareness-raising sessions with ten women's groups heavily impacted by mining activities, including Mounanfangny. These sessions focused on gender issues, laws, land rights and remedies in case of violations of these rights, as well as legal, administrative and customary procedures for land acquisition.
Meanwhile, men expressed their opposition to the idea of strengthening women's land rights. In order to try to shift views, we began a dialogue and advocacy process between landowners and women's groups. The aim was to highlight the obstacles women face when it comes to securing access to land; in particular, how prejudices, customs and traditions adversely affect women's equitable access to agricultural land.
These dialogue sessions were held by C-DEV facilitators together with community leaders. Given the illiteracy rate in the communities, using the right communication tools was crucial to facilitate understanding. For example, we developed a picture box (only available in French), a collection of drawings that illustrate the topic coupled with questions for participants to debate and answer. This tool received hugely positive feedback from Oumou and others in the groups.
Speaking out, building up confidence
In parallel, we improved the quarterly consultation meetings bringing together men, landowners, local officials, customary chiefs and representatives of one of the mining companies present in the area, so that women too could take part. The aim was for the stakeholders to jointly explore how to overcome the obstacles faced by women and how to take their rights into account in the compensation and indemnity processes for mining projects.
We held a total of eight meetings over a period of one year. At the start of the process, the women dare not express their views in the presence of men in positions of power (local officials, customary chiefs, landowners), as doing so is traditionally seen as showing lack of respect.
But little by little, they built up their confidence and mobilised to ensure that their rights were upheld, and no longer hesitated to voice their grievances to local actors when violations occurred. Oumou Diallo stepped forward as a community mediator, speaking out on behalf of the women in her group.
After numerous exchanges, the landowners finally agreed to grant the ten women's groups written loan certificates, signed by the communal authorities. These certificates allow the women's groups to formalise and secure their collective access to agricultural land. They confer them an exclusive right to use and operate the land for a ten-year period. A land surveyor carried out measurements of the perimeters to delineate them.
Thanks to these certificates, the groups' lands are now protected against speculation and other land pressures from mining activities. It also motivates women and gives them greater confidence in asserting their rights, as stated by Oumou Diallo: "We used to be given land to farm without any security, either through a loan or a lease. Since we started attending training sessions with C-DEV, we have understood that every land transaction should result in the signing of a contract to secure the land."
A promising process for scaling up
Securing land tenure is only one aspect of empowering rural women; in parallel to the dialogues, we supported four groups to define, draft and seek financing for micro-projects: backing for the production, processing or sale of market produce, or for the valorisation of traditional conservation techniques.
As a result of this work, we have had the groups' action plan incorporated into the commune's local development plan so that they can benefit from local funding.
Although all these activities have helped secure the land rights of ten women's groups locally, there is still a long way to go before systematic tenure security is achieved at national level. Policymakers carrying out the land reform process in Guinea would benefit from taking into account the positive results we have achieved.
For example, it could be useful to systematically implement the practices we have tested in large-scale land investment projects. And a future policy on rural land should recognise how important it is to formalise women's land rights and the procedures to do so.