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‘How the WLRI will help the women I work with to participate in decisions about their land’

Sabrina-Naa Akeleh Botchway is taking part in the course offered by The Women’s Land RIghts Institute. She spoke to Dominic Black about how the course will impact her work going forward. 

Sabrina works in project management  and development practice, and is currently based in Accra, Ghana. She is passionate about gender equality, and recently worked for COLANDEF. COLANDEF specializes in working with smallholder land users, women, communities at a local level to improve their land rights.

The conversation has been light edited for clarity and length. 

DB: What attracted you to the course with the Women’s Land Rights Institute?

Sabrina: So what attracted me to the course with the Women’s Land Rights Institute is the fact that I was working with female traditional leaders, helping them participate in land management and policy relating to land management, and I felt it would enlighten me and help me understand what women’s land rights actually involved. I have a very strong background in development work but not so strong in women’s land rights and land rights in general. So I felt this would strengthen my understanding. I took the opportunity to apply and was selected. I was very happy.

DB: So far what have been the things that have been most interesting to you about the course?

Sabrina: The opportunity to discuss various themes under women’s land rights with other people involved in the field. It has been interesting hearing their views and experiences. And I am also happy to hear from legal practitioners: those who have a legal background at the Women’s Land Rights Institute. I find them very knowledgeable in the field and it’s been a pleasure to learn from them.  

DB: Is it exciting to have the opportunity to talk to other people from other countries that are also exploring some of the same issues you might be experiencing?

Sabrina: Yes, it is very interesting. And in particular I have the opportunity to learn from their experiences because they are also practitioners in the field, and it’s nice to hear some of their responses to the discussions we have. It really gives me more insight into their expertise, and I am able to tap into that. 

DB: How do you feel the course will help you in your own work?

Sabrina: As I am growing in my field, practice and career, it really is an excellent way to hone my skills. I will be in a better position to support  women because I am more knowledgeable: and I will have the opportunity to learn from a wide range of case studies from around the world. Already, we’ve had the opportunity to learn from things happening in other countries from participants on the course.

DB: Would you recommend the course?

Sabrina: Yes I would recommend the course. I feel it’s a learning opportunity for those who are already in the practice, working in women’s land rights; for those who are working with women in general or and for anyone in the field still trying to understand  issues surrounding women’s land rights. It’s a good way for one to increase knowledge for more effective implementation of project activities. 

Even in matrilineal societies,

women face challenges when it comes to land

DB: When it comes to land, what is the situation for women where you’ve been working?  

Sabrina: One of the things I found happening is that female traditional leaders of both matrilineal and patrilineal communities were not really included in land policy decision making. Having worked with some female traditional leaders on a project to improve their participation in land policy decisions…I realised that land is usually held in trust by the Male Traditional Leaders, and women do not really participate in decisions concerning its management. Decisions on what happened on the land would usually involve just the male traditional leaders. Profits from the land and its resources are given only to the men. The female traditional leaders are usually not included. This means that their perspectives and interests are lost: the voice that represents the more vulnerable in the community you know, the women, is lost.

When it comes to inheritance, in Ghana we have both patrilineal and matrilineal inheritance. Where you have matrilineal inheritance, where you would think because it’s a matrilineal system women will have the upper hand. But the inheritance is usually given to a brother or an uncle of the woman…usually the brother of the woman is the one who heads the family and is in charge of most of the land and the property and oversees it. 

Nevertheless, the narrative is slowly changing. In some communities it is still very dominant, so that we don’t have women participating in decisions that have to do with land.

DB: Is it the case that women are often keen to take on decision making roles, or do they need persuading that they have the capacity to do that?

Sabrina: I think women are traditionally in the background so they are not really given the option to participate, even if they really want to. So there is a need to encourage them; there is a need to work with all stakeholders, the male traditional leaders, and entire communities. And there’s a need to work with government officials to help them understand the need to incorporate women even in policy decision making. So it’s not really about persuading the women, but the fact that society doesn’t really deem it as necessary. 

When it comes to land and resources, it’s the male traditional leaders who are seen as the heads, and the female traditional leaders – who are counterparts of the chiefs –  are left behind. They are not included. And it happens across the board. If it’s happening for the female traditional leaders then it is also happening for female community members as well. 

So it is not really about persuading the women but about changing society’s view and helping society understand the need to include women.

‘It might take some time, but…

I’m very optimistic that change can happen’

DB: When you first went out to meet women traditional leaders for the first time, were you nervous? 

Sabrina: It was a different experience…and I was a little nervous, for the first time I thought, ‘Wow, what a wonderful opportunity.’ I had the opportunity to participate in a meeting with paramount Female Traditional Leaders, leading the platform of Female Traditional Leaders in Ghana; the President,  Secretary, and the Organising Secretary of the Queen Mother’s Platform. As I worked with them, I realized they were truly wonderful motherly figures.

DB: People have told me that in this field progress is very slow because it takes a long time for society’s ideas to change. Do you feel quite optimistic about the possibility for change?

Sabrina: Well yes, but I am optimistic. Culture is dynamic, culture changes – that’s one of the characteristics of culture. So with a little education, with a little capacity building, with some amount of effort, we can begin to change things, even though it might take some time. By working with community leaders, and community members; helping them to see things from a new point of view I think, yes, it’s possible. It might take some time, but it’s possible, and I’m very optimistic that change can happen.

This is one of the reasons why I love development practice work: because it gives one the opportunity to meet people and improve people’s lives and change livelihoods and do so many interesting things that can change entire  communities. I find it’s just a very wonderful thing to use your time for and it is one of the things that attracted me to development practice in the first place.

Sabrine Naa-Akeleh Botchway is based in Accra, Ghana, where she had the opportunity to work with female traditional leaders. You can find out more about the project and  organisation that made this happen, COLANDEF, by clicking on the links below.

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