Impact of Land tenure systems
on women in Sierra Leone
• History and Context setting
• Acquisition of land in the provinces
• Impact of land tenure on women
• The 2007 laws
• Impact of the 2007 laws on women
• Issues for Reflection
History and Context setting
• Sierra Leone a country started off as a British
occupied territory since 1787
• Became a British crown colony in 1808
• 2 systems of Administration existed (Colony and
• Colony governed by direct rule-Administered by
• Protectorate- Land situated outside of the colony
and governed indirectly through Chiefs supervised
by British District Officers
• In present day Sierra Leone, 2 distinct systems of
land tenure coexist within the same geographical
divide (English land law applying to the Western
Area/ Colony & Customary law applying to
• The colony/Western Area provides for individuals
to acquire individual ownership of land through
purchase (title deeds)
• Under the provinces ( sub-divided into smaller
administrative units referred to as Chiefdoms –
headed by a Paramount Chief), provincial land use
is vested in the Paramount Chief as caretaker.
• Paramount Chiefs are elected by an electoral
college (constituted by 20 tax payers to 1 voter –
• very few female representatives are part of the
electoral college because women were not
allowed to pay tax (although this is now
• Paramount Chiefs are elected for life
• There are currently 149 Paramount Chiefs and
only 6 out of this number are women
• This institution is founded on Patriarchy (male
lineage; male secret society)
Acquisition of land in the Provinces
• In the provinces there are three ways in which
land is acquired Communal, Family and
• communal tenure -it seeks to protect the
paramount interest of the entire group.
• The Paramount chief holds the land in trust on
behalf of the community.
• Family Tenure- Family land are acquired when
certain pieces of land within a particular
chiefdom is vested in a family.
• Such pieces of lands are controlled by family
• Family heads are almost always men.
• Individual Tenure is strange and of modern
development. This type of tenure is now
scattered throughout the provinces more
especially in provincial and other headquarters
towns although it has been argued that Individual
Tenure is contrary to Customary Law in Sierra
• Individual tenure is earned by the following
• BY ALIENATION- i.e. through land sale or
• BY GIFT OF LAND- i.e. land is donated to an individual
• By partitions- family land is shared among individual
• CUSTOMARY PLEDGE- Land can be pledged to
individuals under customary law and can vest
paramount ownership on an individual.
• LEASE OR CUSTOMARY TENANCIE- An individual can
acquire an interest in land. The individual land holding
does not expire at death but pass on to the surviving
children who will have continuity of tenure in the land.
Impact of Land Tenure on women
• Positive Impacts
• Individual tenure makes it possible for women
to own land titles in provincial and other
• Women who are economically empowered
can lease provincial land for as long as 40
years giving them control of such lands.
• Economically empowered women can buy
land in the Western Area
• Grants of land that is being made to investors has
implications on poor women farming groups who
are normally dispossessed of such land
• In Sierra Leone all tribes practice a system of
patrilineal decent, except the Sherbro who
practice matrilineal decent in family holdings.
• Family heads are almost always males
Traditionally the eldest male family member with
regards to age, education, power and wealth.
• Women are most times given user rights
The 2007 Laws
• The laws of 2007 are the domestic violence
act, customary marriage and divorce Act and
devolution of estates act
• The Devolution of Estates Act deals with the
distribution of the property (land) of a
• It applies when a person dies intestate
Impacts of the 2007 Acts on women
• The independence of women to own property (land) is
guaranteed under the customary marriage Act. Under
section 18 of the Customary Marriage and Divorce Act
2007, “A wife in a customary marriage shall have the
capacity to personally acquire and dispose of
properties and to enter into contracts in her own
• A woman who has lived with the deceased person at
least 5 years before his death, whether married or
unmarried is regarded as a beneficiary of the
deceased’s property (land).
• The new law allows for girls to benefit form
property (land) from their fathers and brothers.
• Law only covers cases from 2007- when laws
• Women can only benefit from their partners
(when co-habiting) property (land) in 2013.
• There is no new law specifically for land yet. Law
covers all property including land.
Issues for Reflection
• Banks normally give loans to multilateral
cooperation but not to women’s farming groups.
• Opportunities through the CAADP process omits
women focus Agro Business Centres (ABCs).
• Mining companies and big investors dispossess
poor families from land and women suffer the
• Communities argues that women do not utilize
• Chiefs are not willing to have a change in the land