Women’s Land Rights Champion: Emile Ako

This interview with Emile Ako, USAID/Côte d’Ivoire, is part of the REFS/CNE/LRG Women’s Land Rights Champions series, which profiles staff across USAID Missions and operating units who are working to advance women’s land rights.

Tell us about yourself.

I am a Project Management Specialist in USAID’s Democracy, Rights, Governance and Conflict Prevention office in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire. I joined USAID in September 2021; however, my commitment to the Agency goes back nearly 10 years. Previously, I was involved as a consultant and later as an awardee under the USAID Office of Transition Initiatives, where I helped rebuild broken intercommunal relations after the 2011 post-electoral crisis. During this time, USAID produced a short film about my work. Subsequently, I was one of the 12 Young Ivorians selected to participate in former President Obama’s Flagship program, the Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders Initiative (MWF-YALI) in 2015. My career in the international development sector started in 2016 when I joined the American NGO Search for Common Ground as a Project Manager in western Côte d’Ivoire. In addition to working in Côte d’Ivoire, I have worked in Ghana, Liberia, and in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).  

In Côte d’Ivoire and in the DRC, local land-related conflicts have exacerbated tensions between communities. My efforts helped to broker peace between communities and resolve land conflicts in both countries. In western Côte d’Ivoire, I led the mediation process that resulted in the reconciliation and land agreement between the previously opposed Baoulé and the Guéré ethnic groups in the town of Kaade. In the DRC, as a Project Manager with Search for Common Ground, I contributed to securing grouped land titles for several thousands of small farmers, including the Twa/Batwa community in the Luberizi Groupement of the South Kivu Province.

Why are women’s land rights and resource governance important to your work? And to other USAID development work?

Equitable and unobstructed access to land for women has a direct impact on poverty reduction, reduces the propensity of violent conflicts, and decreases gender-based violence in the long-run.  According to the FAO, while women produce between 60 and 80 percent of subsistence crops in developing countries, they face incredible challenges in gaining access to land and resources, like funds to fertilize their soil or increase their production.¹ The situation is no different in Côte d’Ivoire. The recent 2021 Demographic and Health Survey in Côte d’Ivoire revealed that the percentage of women aged 15 to 49 who reported that they do not possess land has increased from 75 percent in 2011 to 88 percent in 2021.² Moreover, land and resource-related conflicts are frequently identified as a leading cause of conflicts and violence.³ Securing land ownership and access for women is a key contribution that USAID can support to reduce poverty, remove women from abusive and toxic subordination, and make it possible for them to fully participate in the market-based economy. Elevating the status of women also holds a great potential for women’s political participation; as their economic power increases, they become better equipped to challenge regressive social norms and increase their leadership in their communities. 

What are some of the biggest challenges in helping women secure land rights and what are some things being done to overcome them?

A political economy analysis conducted as part of the USAID-funded Improving Land Access for Women (ILAW) activity revealed that social norms, traditional practices, and patriarchal beliefs constitute major challenges to women’s access and ownership of land. Other assessments have revealed that, as women are empowered and become economically independent, male patriarchal norms and practices are perceived as threatened, so women are therefore prevented in some traditional societies from having full access and control of land and resources. 

In addition to traditional norms, the length and cost of procedures to establish legal land documentation and/or pursue litigation in case of conflict prevent many women from attempting to seek legal or administrative protection for their land. The process of establishing land ownership for rural and urban lands in Côte d’Ivoire has several stages, each with their own costs, long time delays, and specialized procedures. The whole process requires multiple visits to multiple administrations and excessive time and money, so gaining legal land rights can last several months or even years. These challenges can disincentivize rural women, who typically have less income, often lack formal education and have more pressing daily domestic demands. Furthermore, the absence of qualified lawyers in remote areas that can provide legal assistance to these women adds an additional layer of difficulty. 

To address some of these challenges, ILAW piloted a multilayered approach that combined awareness, social dialogue, behavior change communication, land mediation and direct legal and organizational support to women and communities. The project initiated educational campaigns to raise awareness about recent positive changes in Ivorian property rights and inheritance laws and behavior change communication campaigns by a local theater group. In addition, the project provided direct livelihood assistance through the introduction of the Gender Action Learning System (GALS),⁴ which allowed about 500 community members to define their collective vision for a more viable and inclusive future for women and girls. The project also provided legal assistance for women to facilitate legal access to land. 

What are some of USAID’s successes in the area of women’s land rights?

ILAW is a three-year pilot activity, but even after two years of work, community partners have reported tangible changes at both the individual and collective levels. Below are a few anecdotal successes:

  • The village chief from the village of Kapounon on the border with Burkina Faso decided to double the amount of land reserved for women’s agricultural activities following his participation in social dialogue and GALS sessions, despite his initial reluctance.
  • Another farmer in northern Côte d’Ivoire reported the following: “Before going to the (GALS) training, I used to work alone, I did not inform my wife and my children of what I earned. But now I bring them together, we talk, and we budget our expenses. It is not a common practice for men and women (husband and wife) to have open communication in our culture. But now I have understood that it’s when we talk to each other, and we get along, that we can give each other new ideas to move forward, and everyone is happy. So, I talk, I discuss, and now they are no longer afraid to come and talk to me.”
  • A village chief in western Côte d’Ivoire was quoted saying: “After being village chief for 32 years, I can say that this project has completely transformed my village.” He then described how the training and awareness-raising events led him to divide his land equally between his children, legally marry his wife, and integrate three women into his council of elders. 
  • The National Rural Land Agency (AFOR), impressed by the GALs tool, initiated dialogue with other international donors to integrate the tool in potential future projects.
  • Moreover, AFOR recently partnered with ILAW to pilot a new village land registry. There are also fruitful conversations occurring between the World Bank (WB) and ILAW to share lessons learned for future WB programming in Côte d’Ivoire. 

These success stories reveal the transformative power of increasing access to land for women and communities. ILAW has increased communities’ understanding of land regulations, improved the collective bargaining power of rural women, and provided opportunities for women to secure land across target project communities. To date, USAID has reached 6,214 community members in rural western and northern Côte d’Ivoire. 

 Is there anything else you’d like to share?

Land access for women is an area where USAID can make a sustainable, positive impact in Côte d’Ivoire. However, the success of ILAW remains localized to pilot communities, while land issues are widespread. Consolidating the gains and creating connections with the private sector, linking the women supported under ILAW with microfinance institutions, and facilitating their access to markets in urban areas are a few examples of high impact actions for USAID to pursue in the future. 


¹ FAO. 1984. Women in Food Production and Food Security in Africa. Report of the Government Consultation held in Harare, Zimbabwe, 10-13 July 1984, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome, Italy.

² Jean Chrésus, Côte d’Ivoire: Niellé, un litige foncier au centre de violents affrontements entre les populations fait des morts et des blessés in Koaci.com (retrieved on 10/19/2023).

³ https://www.koaci.com/article/2022/03/04/cote-divoire/societe/cote-divoire-nielle-un-litige-foncier-au-centre-de-violents-affrontements-entre-les-populations-fait-des-morts-et-des-blesses_158149.html.


Women’s Land Rights Champion: Altaf Afridi

This interview with Altaf Afridi, USAID/Pakistan, is part of USAID’s Land and Resource Governance Division’s Women’s Land Rights Champions series, which profiles staff across USAID Missions and operating units who are working to advance women’s land rights.

Tell us about yourself.

My name is Altaf Afridi. I work as a Development Assistance Specialist at USAID/Pakistan. Currently, I manage the Land Registration in Merged Areas (LRMA) project. I am a governance specialist and have designed and managed governance projects throughout my career. In addition to managing LRMA, I also supervise another USAID governance project called Merged Areas Governance Program implemented by UNDP. Prior to my role at USAID, I worked as a Governance Officer at the Pakistan Resident Mission of the Asian Development Bank (ADB). At ADB, I managed the implementation of a large loan program called Decentralization Support Program and implemented a number of supporting technical assistance projects.

Why are women’s land rights and resource governance important to your work? And to other USAID development work?

Pakistan ranks among the world’s lowest in gender equality and women’s rights. This is especially true for the tribal regions, which recently merged into the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) Province. Here, as per the tribal code, land is owned collectively by tribes, sub-tribes, and clans. Women do not have any role in decision making in this patriarchal and conservative society. Therefore, they have virtually no control over land. To address this, USAID/Pakistan is assisting the provincial government of KP in establishing a land registration system with special emphasis on women’s access and control over assets. 

What are some of the biggest challenges in helping women secure land rights and what are some things being done to overcome them?

In 2018, the Parliament of Pakistan passed a constitutional amendment to merge the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border into the neighboring Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) Province. This region is now known as Merged Areas (or Merged Districts) and is part of KP Province. Historically, this particular region was governed through uncodified tribal traditions and was not under the legal jurisdiction of Pakistan law.

The cultural norms and traditions prevailing in Pakistan in general, and in Merged Areas in particular, pose the biggest challenge in helping women secure land rights. Although the Government of Pakistan has legislated extensively to ensure clear inheritance and land rights pathways for women, local men and women are mostly unaware of these laws. The government has lacked the capacity to raise sufficient awareness to effectively implement the new laws.  

USAID/Pakistan, through LRMA, is helping the Government of Pakistan bolster communications about the land laws and provide community outreach that educates local communities about the importance of women’s land rights. Because literacy is low, LRMA is developing and disseminating easy-to-understand communication products like thematic songs, radio programs, Public Service Announcements, illustrations, instructional videos, and live sessions featuring youth from Merged Areas. 

LRMA is also building capacity within the Government of Pakistan to support implementation of the new legislation. LRMA has been conducting a review of the relevant laws, regulations, and policies, and has been recommending relevant amendments to help increase uptake and effectiveness of the laws. LRMA has also been designing and delivering trainings and developing materials like manuals and posters to help raise awareness among government staff, as well as providing equipment and hardware where required.

What are some of USAID’s successes in the area of women’s land rights?

LRMA is USAID/Pakistan’s first and only activity on land rights and there have been several successes. LRMA has conducted capacity building activities for relevant government officials as well as sessions with community leaders to raise awareness of women’s land rights. 

In addition, the project also recently signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the KP Province Ombudesperson, who is entitled to take action when women’s land rights are denied. As a result, LRMA  has set up a legal library in the Ombudsperson’s office to support the capacity of the pro bono lawyers working there. To fill the information gap and inform the public about the new role of the Ombudsperson, LRMA has provided ten “knowledge corner” kiosks to showcase printed information, education, and communications materials on women’s land rights, including inheritance rights. 

LRMA has also developed a video documentary that features two case studies about women litigants who have experienced barriers in registering their property. The documentary will be widely disseminated through two Pashto language satellite/cable TV channels (with wide outreach in Merged Areas) and through various social media platforms.  

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

The project is still new. We look forward to sharing more substantial results down the road.

Women’s Land Rights Champion: Serge Ramanantsoa

This interview with Serge Ramanantsoa, USAID/Madagascar, is part of USAID’s Land and Resource Governance Division’s Women’s Land Rights Champions series, which profiles staff across USAID Missions and operating units who are working to advance women’s land rights.

Tell us about yourself

Serge Ramanantsoa headshot
Serge Ramanantsoa, USAID/Madagascar

My name is Ramanantsoa Serge and I hold several roles in the Sustainable Environment and Economic Development (SEED) office: Project Management Specialist / Climate Integration Lead for USAID/Madagascar, the point of contact for the Mission regarding land issues, and activity manager for the Integrated Land and Resource Governance (ILRG) activity in Madagascar. Our USAID SEED office is responsible for all programs related to the preservation and protection of biodiversity, sustainable landscapes, climate change, and the fight against wildlife trafficking while also improving the living conditions of local communities through cooperation with the private sector. In my former work at UN Habitat Madagascar, I investigated land tenure and land planning for slums located around large and medium cities in Madagascar. This experience allowed me to share my knowledge with the ILRG activity to carry out analyses on the complexity of land and resource governance in Madagascar, and then develop a roadmap for land tenure considering women’s access to land and the preservation of watersheds and forests.

Why are women’s land rights and resource governance important to your work? And to other USAID development work?

Women’s land rights and resource governance are important to our work in the Sambirano Valley of Madagascar, and to USAID, because women occupy important roles in the Malagasy community– specifically related to the collection of wood for energy, collection of water, and providing education for children. Yet, women’s access to land and leadership positions are limited by culture and customs in addition to their rights to crucial resources and access to income-generating activities needed to meet their families’ daily needs. This is especially true in the case of single mothers. 

One way we work to counter this issue is by ensuring ample participation by women in our development activities and ensuring that there is equal representation of women to men within the target communities that we reach. We also work to build the participation of women in leadership boards of the communities and organizations that we work with, and increase the rates of women’s land ownership. 

What are some of the biggest challenges in helping women secure land rights and what are some things being done to overcome them?

The biggest challenges are the exclusionary customs that make it difficult for women to inherit land, and high rates of illiteracy.

To overcome the challenges, USAID/Madagascar conducts educational awareness campaigns on land rights, which has been customized to address the needs of those who are illiterate, to change existing customs and exclusionary mentalities. In addition, we are working on systematic integration of women into local community organizations so they can advance in land acquisition procedures. These activities, as well as others, are reported on the GNDR-2 (Gender Equality/Female Empowerment) indicator, which details the percentage of female participants in U.S. government-assisted programs for the sake of increasing access to productive economic resources (assets, credit, income or employment).

What are some of USAID’s successes in the area of women’s land rights?

Some specific successes so far have been the constitution and promotion of Women Land Leaders (WLL), then the integration of WLL in the consultation, advocacy and decision-making platform (FIVEDISAB “Sambirano Women’s Association”) on land issues in the Sambirano Valley.

FIVEDISAB has developed a plan for monitoring and strengthening its structure and has received support for insertion in the national networking platform with the SIF (national platform of civil society working in land).

There has also been support for the updating and official regularization of administrative documents which improve access to resources (especially land) for women.

Women’s Land Rights Champion: Semaly Kisamo

This series features Women’s Land Rights Champions within USAID to learn more about their work. We’re pleased to share this interview with Semaly Kisamo, USAID Tanzania’s Project Management Specialist for Policy. 

Semaly Kisamo, USAID/Tanzania

Tell us about yourself

I joined the USAID/Tanzania mission in July 2016 as the Project Management Specialist for Policy in the Economic Growth (EG) Office, which is responsible for planning, managing, and evaluating projects and activities in support of USAID/Tanzania’s 2nd development objective (empowerment, productivity, and engagement of Tanzanians aged 15 to 35 increased). The EG Office is also responsible for implementing Feed the Future, Power Africa and other Presidential Initiatives in Tanzania and coordinating with Regional and Global programs.

As a key member of the Resilience and Food Security Team (RFS) within the Economic Growth Office, my role includes providing technical direction in designing programs that seek to accelerate Tanzania’s adoption of more effective policies to drive broad-based agricultural sector growth in the country. In addition, I oversee activity performance, financial reports, and manage the assigned portfolio. My work also involves building and strengthening relationships with key relevant partner institutions, including the Prime Minister’s Office, the ministry

of Agriculture, the Ministry of Industry and Trade, the Ministry of Lands, Housing, and Human Settlements Development, and other key national, sub-national and non-governmental institutions in Tanzania to encourage optimal coordination, harmonization, and alignment of U.S. Government policy programs.

Currently, I serve as the Agreement/Contracting Officer’s Representative (A/COR) for USAID/Tanzania’s Feed the Future flagship policy activity, SERA BORA ( “Better Policies”). Prior to that, I managed the Feed the Future Tanzania Land Tenure Assistance (LTA) activity. Before joining USAID/Tanzania, I worked for over 12 years with the Government of Tanzania (GoT) as a Senior Economist in the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Home Affairs. Before serving in the GoT, I worked as a Programme Officer Grants for the Foundation for Civil Society Limited, an international Non-Governmental Organization. I hold a Bachelor of Arts in Economics and a Master of Arts in Public Policy specializing in Development Policy from Crawford School of Public Policy in Australia.

Why are women’s land rights and resource governance important to your work? And to other USAID development work?

The demand for and pressure on Tanzania’s land and resources is growing rapidly. Global interest in acquiring arable land for commercial agriculture combined with population growth, rapid urbanization, and conservation pressure is driving competition for Tanzania’s increasingly scarce land. As part of  USAID/Tanzania’s Country Development Cooperation Strategy (CDCS 2020-2025), which puts a lot of emphasis on empowering women and youth, USAID funded the Land Tenure Assistance (LTA) project from the period of 2015-2021, implemented in the Iringa and Mbeya regions. The project worked to clarify and document land ownership, supported land use planning initiatives, increased local residents’ understanding of land use and property rights, established land ownership, and ensured broad, inclusive community involvement in a transparent titling process, particularly for women and youth. According to Tanzania’s recent population census, Tanzania will grow by over 10 million individuals by 2030, putting pressure on social services, yet creating great economic potential if appropriately managed. Tanzania’s economy relies heavily on farming, raising animals, fishing, preserving wildlife, and managing forests. Together, these industries contribute about 65% of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP), make up 60% of the earnings from exports, and provide employment for over 80% of the population. Out of this, 65 percent is dominated by women and youth, who comprise a large segment of the labour-force in rural areas.

What are some of the biggest challenges in helping women secure land rights and what are some things being done to overcome them?

Tanzanian law grants equal land rights to men and women. The reality, however, is that women own and control only a small portion of land assets, and, in many communities, are either unaware of their land rights or are prohibited from owning land because of traditional patriarchal norms. Tanzania’s marriage and inheritance laws are often unfavorable towards women and their children, and frequently dispossess them of their rightful land. 

The success of the Land Tenure Assistance project (LTA) rested heavily on its consistent focus on community engagement and education. Specialized awareness training on land rights was provided to women and men so that women’s rights to occupy land were well understood and implemented. In addition, awareness training was provided to all women’s groups and small groups of residents at the hamlet level to ensure that men and women have a thorough understanding of their rights and responsibilities, and of the legal framework underpinning the registration of village land in Tanzania. By the end of the project’s implementation, as a result of the strong emphasis on raising awareness about women’s land rights in Tanzania, LTA achieved a 50/50 gender balance of land claims.

What are some of USAID’s successes in the area of women’s land rights?

When the Land Tenure Assistance (LTA) project began in 2015, the participation of women in village meetings was very low due to men’s traditional dominance in public gatherings. Culturally, women do not speak freely before men in a public meeting with the exception of very few educated and courageous women. It is a deeply entrenched cultural belief that men must have dominance in land ownership. Women do not have equal rights in making decisions on financial and property related matters. For example, although working on the farm is a major role for most women, the husband controls all aspects of selling the agricultural products. Women are also often burdened with many other concerns such as tending to children, working in gardens, and making sure that children attend school while men might spend their time drinking local beer.  

LTA acknowledged the difficulties encountered by women in its designated villages and implemented specialized training programs specifically for them. These training initiatives fostered a safe space where women could openly address concerns related to land rights, free from any apprehension or pressure from men. As a result of this special training, women were empowered to claim their land rights. In LTA’s target villages, the ratio of formal land certificate ownership was evenly divided between men and women. LTA also initiated women’s focus groups to empower women in rural economic activities and small businesses such as gardening, poultry, and piggery, and to teach them about credit and savings skills.  

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

Local sustainability is a critical component in systematic rural land registration. In order to have a successful system that is inclusive, it is imperative to work closely with indigenous communities and to empower district and village land institutions to carry out the work on their own. This will ensure sustainability and enable indigenous communities to develop their capacity and skills, and to carry forward the process independently once outside support ends.

Women’s Land Rights Champion: Corinne Hart

This series features Women’s Land Rights Champions within USAID to learn more about their work. We’re pleased to share this interview with Corinne Hart, USAID’s Senior Gender Advisor for Energy, Environment, and Climate.

Corinne Hart, USAID
Corinne Hart, USAID

Tell us about yourself

I am the Senior Gender Advisor for Energy, Environment, and Climate in USAID’s Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment Hub within the Development, Democracy, and Innovation (DDI) Bureau. I lead a team of gender advisors tasked with providing technical assistance across the Agency to support gender integration in a range of environmental sectors, including land and resource governance. I also oversee Gender Equity and Equality Action (GEEA) Fund resources available to advance women’s land rights in partnership with the Land and Resource Governance division in DDI. 

Why are women’s land rights and resource governance important to your work? And to other USAID development work?

As one of the Agency’s advisors responsible for gender integration in environment and climate sectors, I’ve seen firsthand that women’s land rights and their secure land tenure is a critical component to achieving the Agency’s overall goals on gender equality, women’s empowerment, climate change, the environment, and natural resource management. When women have secure rights to land, including by law and in customary systems, they have a critical asset that they can rely on for their livelihoods, and it can increase their decision-making power and agency. 

What are some of the biggest challenges in helping women secure land rights and what are some things being done to overcome them?

While there is a strong body of evidence connecting women’s secure land rights to many different development outcomes, such as food security, climate change, and natural resource management, it is still necessary to make the case to a range of stakeholders that advancing women’s land rights must be a key part of their approaches. Partnering with governments at the local and national levels, private sector actors, local implementing partners, and women and men in communities is one strategy that we use to ensure that women’s land rights interventions are woven into a range of sectors and approaches, including in policies, customary tenure arrangements, agriculture, and economic growth. USAID has also created the Resilient, Inclusive, Sustainable Environments (RISE) Challenge to provide small grants to environment, gender, and development organizations to address gender-based violence (GBV) related to natural resource management, including land. These grants enable our partners to apply best practices in GBV mitigation and response related to women’s land rights and to share the learnings across a large network of practitioners through the USAID-funded GBV-Environment Linkages Center hosted by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Together with our partners from all sectors around the world, we are building the evidence, testing promising practices, providing technical assistance, and working directly with communities to ensure that women are able to access and control the land that is so critical for their overall health, wellbeing, and economic stability. 

What are some of USAID’s successes in the area of women’s land rights?

USAID is on the forefront of implementing gender-transformative women’s land rights programs that are addressing a wide range of issues that can impede equal rights to land. For example, our activities not only focus on land laws, but they also work to increase women’s meaningful participation and leadership in community natural resource management bodies, address gender-based violence concerns connected to land rights, change harmful gender norms, engage men and boys as gender equality champions, and increase women’s personal agency and empowerment. This robust approach ensures that USAID’s women’s land rights activities tackle the broad range of challenges that women face when accessing and controlling land. 


Women’s Land Rights Champions

This series features Women’s Land Rights Champions within USAID to learn more about their work. 

Serge Ramanantsoa, USAID/ Madagascar

August 2023 – Women’s Land Rights Champion: Serge Ramanantsoa

Semaly Kisamo, USAID/Tanzania

May 2023 – Women’s Land Rights Champion: Semaly Kisamo

Corinne head shot
Corrine Hart, Senior Advisor for Gender and Environment, USAID/DDI, Washington DC

May 2022 – Women’s Land Rights Champion: Corinne Hart


Paula Pimentel, USAID/Mozambique

February 2022 – Women’s Land Rights Champion: Paula Pimentel

F. Mulbah Zig Forkpa, Jr., USAID/Liberia

January 2022 – Women’s Land Rights Champion: F. Mulbah Zig Forkpa, Jr.

Marcela Chaves, USAID/Colombia

December 2021 – Women’s Land Rights Champion: Marcela Chaves

Catherine Tembo, USAID/Zambia

November 2021 – Women’s Land Rights Champion: Catherine Tembo, Ph.D.



Women’s Land Rights Champion: Paula Pimentel

This series features Women’s Land Rights Champions within USAID to learn more about their work. This month’s Champion is Paula Pimentel of USAID/Mozambique.

Tell us about yourself

I am a senior agricultural specialist at USAID/Mozambique with more than 30 years of experience in agricultural development, including land rights and resource governance. I have an MSc in Animal Production from the University of Pretoria and an Honors degree in Veterinary Medicine from Eduardo Mondlane University. 

Why are women’s land rights and resource governance important to your work? And to other USAID development work?

In Mozambique and other African countries, land and natural resources are the most valuable economic asset for rural women. Being able to access and control land-related assets is critical for women’s self-reliance and a pathway to economic growth. Strengthening women’s rights to land, and women’s ability to influence resource governance, leads to better agricultural productivity and resource management. This, in turn, contributes to many USAID development goals like improved food security and climate change mitigation and adaptation.

What are some of the biggest challenges in helping women secure land rights and what are some things being done to overcome them?

A main challenge is a lack of gender equality in land legislation or weak implementation of laws and policies. But even when the legal and policy framework provides for women’s land rights, women face many other challenges like lack of knowledge about their rights and land registration processes, unequal inheritance practices, biased dispute resolution mechanisms, restrictive social norms, and vulnerability to gender-based violence. USAID  supports consultations and data analysis to improve inclusiveness in the land policy reform process in Mozambique. We are supporting programs that work directly with women, communities, and gender champions to increase women’s access to information and participation in community land governance and to shift restrictive social norms. USAID is also partnering with the private sector so that rural women in Mozambique can have secure land rights and turn these rights into concrete opportunities for economic security.

What are some of USAID’s successes in the area of women’s land rights?

USAID is partnering with one of Mozambique’s largest agroforestry companies to develop innovative business models that benefit companies and smallholder farmers. Over the past year, around 4,000 people’s land access and land use rights were formalized through the program, enabling those individuals to  engage in economically viable use of the land. Over 67 percent of those farmers are women, who are now able to access and control sustainable livelihoods.

Anything else you want to share?

Land documentation and inclusive community land governance are transformative for smallholder farmers and communities as a whole, decreasing conflict and increasing investment and overall economic growth in rural areas. The USAID Mozambique Mission is keen to pursue a pathway that will continue to support and improve the country’s land policy environment, aiming at a more gender equitable and prosperous use of land by Mozambican women. 

I have personally learned a lot by working with the USAID-funded ILRG Activity and I thank Thais Silveira Bessa, the activity’s Gender Specialist, for sharing  key field assessments with a strong gender lens on women’s land rights in  Mozambican rural communities.

Women’s Land Rights Champion: F. Mulbah Zig Forkpa, Jr.

This series features Women’s Land Rights Champions within USAID to learn more about their work. We’re pleased to share this interview with F. Mulbah Zig Forkpa, Jr., the Land Governance Specialist at USAID/Liberia.

Tell us about yourself.

My name is F. Mulbah Zig Forkpa, Jr. I am currently the Land Governance Specialist at USAID/Liberia. I have served in this capacity for five years, helping to implement the Mission’s land and resource governance programs-first the Land Governance Support Activity, a  $15.6 million activity which ended in August 2020, and now the Land Management Support Activities, a $9.4 million activity which continues until 2025. I also serve as one of the focal persons on gender in the Mission’s Office of Democracy, Rights, and Governance. I am a proud graduate of USAID’s inaugural Land Advisors Program. I hold both BA and LLB degrees from the University of Liberia. I am finalizing my LLM in Transnational Criminal Justice. Throughout my LLM studies, I have endeavored to explore the linkages between land reform and transitional justice, as well as how land reform can sustain peace and prevent the recurrence of conflicts that were primarily provoked by land disagreements.

Why are women’s land rights and resource governance important to your work? And to other USAID development work?

Liberia has a predominantly rural population that primarily derives its livelihood from land. This means that land is placed at the center of everything that matters, including social and economic security. Where insecure land and resource governance affect an entire population, women tend to suffer the most because of the critical role they play in farming and caring for the family. There is an important relationship between improved women’s land rights and a better society. Since the essence of USAID’s work is to ensure an improved and more secure society, the obvious choice must be made to enhance women’s secure access to land and resources.

What are some of the biggest challenges in helping women secure land rights and what are some things being done to overcome them?

To the best of my knowledge, all women’s land rights assessments have shown that despite the central role women play in agricultural production, their rights and access to land are often hindered. In a male-dominated society like Liberia, these hindrances have long roots and have evolved as an acceptable social norm. In most cases, discriminatory social norms are supported by existing legal frameworks that relegate women’s land and natural resource rights to a status that is less important than those of men. In instances where discriminatory gender norms are outlawed through formal laws, the entrenched adherence to those norms, as well as powerful men’s unwillingness to lose their control over land resources makes it extremely difficult to enforce new reform laws. To offset these challenges, we have ensured that gender issues are constantly highlighted in policies and regulatory formulations, in order to streamline and amplify the gender equality provisions of the 2018 Land Rights Act of Liberia. Our land and resource governance programs have constantly embarked on strong behavioral change education and publicity campaigns. In these endeavors, we have collaborated with, and empowered, influential stakeholders including traditional leaders who are now championing the fight for gender empowerment. These strategies must become sustainable and live on even after donor support ends. In that regard, the USAID supported the establishment of a Gender Unit within the Liberia Land Authority (LLA), the central land regulatory agency in Liberia. The Gender Unit is driving the gender empowerment agenda of the LLA.

What are some of USAID’s successes in the area of land rights?

USAID has supported the enactment, establishment, and operationalization of the LLA. Initially, land services were scattered across different government entities and also marked by huge bureaucracy. The LLA has now become the single one-stop-center to access land services. USAID has ensured that the LLA has the proper tools to oversee the implementation of the Land Rights Act adopted in 2018 as the country’s primary land reform agenda. To do so, a USAID-supported consultant worked with the LLA in 2019 to create an implementation strategy for the Land Rights Act. The strategy has been effective, making it possible for stakeholders to avoid duplication in programming aimed at safeguarding rights. I firmly believe the most significant provisions of the Land Right Act are those that require the formalization of customary land. These provisions restored customary land rights, which were denied for over 100 years, and placed women’s rights  on par with those of men, both in terms of land access and management. These customary land formalization provisions have been piloted by USAID in communities across three of Liberia’s 15 counties, and lessons learned are being rolled out.

Anything else you want to share?

Let me take the moment to talk briefly about the USAID/Liberia Land Management Activity, awarded in July 2021 with the intent to support at least 100 communities to own and manage their customary land efficiently. It is a continuation of USAID’s investment in the Liberian land space and has a component that places exclusive emphasis on empowering women and minority groups to participate in decision-making around land by getting elected to governance bodies. The program encourages different donors to co-locate and leverage efforts. Because of these opportunities, the communities who will secure their land rights through USAID’s activity will likely utilize their titles for various private sector commercial engagements.