Women’s Land Rights Champions 2021 – 2022

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

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

Each month, we feature a Women’s Land Rights Champion 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.

Advancing Ethical Mineral Supply Chains in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

The U.S. government-supported Public-Private Alliance for Responsible Minerals Trade (PPA) offers a successful model for advancing responsible mineral sourcing in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Great Lakes Region of Central Africa.

Minerals needed for our electronic devices such as computers and cellphones and renewable technologies such as electric vehicles are often sourced from conflict-affected countries with weak governance systems including the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  For these countries, mineral wealth can be a double-edged sword. Mining is a crucial economic sector and a direct source of livelihoods for an estimated two million artisanal and small-scale miners, but the sector is also known for its damaging effects: it can finance armed group activity, fuel corruption, and cause vast environmental damage, labor violations, and human rights abuses. 

Global demand for minerals is surging, especially for those minerals needed for low carbon technologies. More than ever before, we need better models to support responsible sourcing of minerals from high-risk areas. Responsible sourcing of minerals is an umbrella term used to describe sourcing designed to be “socially responsible,” “green,” or “sustainable” by implementing supply chain due diligence and sustainability schemes (Brink et al., 2019). For the last decade, the Public-Private Alliance for Responsible Minerals Trade (PPA) has advanced responsible sourcing of minerals from the DRC and the Great Lakes Region of Central Africa. 

The Alliance is a multi-stakeholder effort that brings together leaders from the private sector, government, and civil society to advance supply chain solutions to the issue of conflict minerals. It focuses on minerals linked to conflict and instability in the region and prioritizes tin, tantalum, tungsten, and gold. Jointly founded in 2011 by USAID and Department of State, the the Alliance offers funding and coordination support to organizations working in the Great Lakes region to develop verifiable conflict-free supply chains; align chain-of-custody programs and practices; encourage responsible sourcing; promote transparency; and bolster in-region civil society and governmental capacity. The  Public-Private Alliance for Responsible Minerals Trade Secretariat is managed by the civil society organization RESOLVE.

After ten years of supporting responsible sourcing, the leaders and influencers that make up the Alliance are assessing how to best address the next generation of challenges in responsible sourcing.  Since its inception, the Alliance has raised more than $2.5 million in private sector contributions, with an additional $36 million in parallel funding from USAID for mining governance and traceability projects.  Public-Private Alliance for Responsible Minerals Trade-supported projects include early support for the development of a conflict-free artisanal gold supply chain that led to the first export of conflict-free gold from the DRC to the United States, piloting community-based interventions to mitigate human rights abuses and increase women’s leadership in mining communities, and identifying and addressing barriers to responsible finance for the artisanal sector. Successful PPA projects such as conflict-free gold supply chains, may be scaled-up by large donors such as USAID. 

Virtual Delegation and the Next Generation

In December 2021, the Alliance held a virtual delegation to the Great Lakes Region of Central Africa, where nearly 70 attendees from the private sector, civil society, and the U.S. government discussed shared objectives and alignment and U.S. Embassy priorities. 

Lucy Tamlyn, U.S. Ambassador to the Central African Republic; Michael Hammer, U.S. Ambassador to the Democratic Republic of the Congo; and Marcia Eugenio, Director of the Office of Child Labor, Forced Labor, and Human Trafficking at the U.S. Department of Labor, opened the virtual delegation. PPA speakers included representatives from Apple, Google, Intel, and the civil society organization, IMPACT, among others.

“With its abundance of natural resources, the DRC is at the heart of the critical minerals discussion and will play a central role in the future of green energy,” Ambassador Hammer said in the opening remarks.

The Alliance members expressed continued commitment to responsible sourcing and identified shared challenges that would benefit from deeper engagement and collaboration with U.S. embassies in the region.  Alyssa Newman of Google reiterated that the Alliance, “is an important platform for connecting minerals governance to other issues and projects Google is investing in” and that Google would like it to continue to advance “due diligence and ethical supply chains, human rights, labor rights, and strengthen civil society and inclusive economic development.” Other potential areas of future collaboration that were raised included tax harmonization, the simplification of legal export processes, public-private co-investment opportunities, and the importance of tackling systemic issues including fiscal and governance reforms and land tenure.

As consumers and governments increasingly demand sustainable and ethical sourcing of minerals, public-private partnerships like the Public-Private Alliance for Responsible Minerals Trade are playing an invaluable role in bringing stakeholders from across the mineral supply chain together to discuss roadblocks and advance key objectives. The Alliance brings large private sector players to the table with civil society organizations and allows members to collectively support promising projects to ensure that increased demand for critical minerals does not come at the expense of local communities. As Intel’s Adam Schafer reflects, “As a downstream company,  Intel’s partnership with the PPA [the Alliance] has been a crucial connection to engage with in-region programs and stakeholders to allow a responsible path for mineral sourcing. We look forward to continued collaboration as we work towards our goal to responsibly source all of our critical minerals.” 

The Public-Private Alliance for Responsible Minerals Trade has a tripartite membership from across 47 partners representing private sector, civil society, and government. Private sector members represent several sectors, including electronics and communications, automotive, aerospace and jewelry. There are 25 member companies, which include Amazon, Apple, Ford, Google, Intel, Microsoft, Signet, and Verizon. PPA’s civil society and academic members come from 16 organizations and trade groups, including Global Communities, IMPACT, IPIS, Pact, Solidaridad, and The Sentry. Government representatives include USAID, US Department of State, US Department of Labor, GIZ, and the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region. The OECD Centre for Responsible Business Conduct is an observer. 

Photo credit: Mike Loch

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

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.

Talking Books Spread the Word About Women’s Land Rights in Liberia

In November 2021 a different kind of mobile library came to Bong County, Liberia. Through funding from USAID’s Land Evidence for Economic Rights, Gender, and Equality (LEVERAGE) Activity and in partnership with Landesa, Talking Books are bringing information about the Land Rights Act, passed in 2018, to 31 rural communities in the Panta, Gahn, and Wrumah clans. Talking Books are simple, hand-held audio players that deliver audio messages in local languages to low-literacy populations in areas without consistent electricity and/or internet connection.

The passage of  the Land Rights Act marked an important milestone for land rights in Liberia. The Land Rights Act provides for the first time a nationwide process for communities to legally certify and manage their customary lands. The Land Rights Act also strengthens rural women’s legal rights to access and manage land by recognizing women as community members, mandating that each community member be allocated land for housing and agriculture, and requiring equal participation by women in community land governance bodies. However, biased gender norms, widespread lack of knowledge about women’s land rights in Liberia, and gendered barriers to accessing information and services mean that women are often left out of decisions about land and are unable to exercise their land rights.

To address these issues, USAID is partnering with the NGO, Landesa, to pilot an information campaign using Talking Books to build awareness about women’s land rights in Liberia. USAID’s LEVERAGE program is distributing Talking Books to women-headed households, ethnic minorities, women’s groups, and youth groups. Each Talking Book contains eight pre-recorded “chapters” that explain the Land Rights Act in a variety of local languages and dialects using culturally relevant concepts. The chapters cover the basics of the Land Rights Act and other topics such as the steps that communities can take to map their lands and apply for a formal land certificate, how to create by-laws and committees to manage the land as a community, alternative dispute resolution, women’s legal land and property rights, and the differences between tribal certificates and deeds. The chapters teach the importance of, and the legal requirement for, equal representation of women on all land management committees. Messages also explain women’s and men’s inheritance rights and explain women’s and men’s land rights inside and outside of formal and customary marriages, consistently emphasizing the rights of women as citizens and community members.   

Instead of attending a one-time community training session, people can listen to the messages on Talking Books at their own pace, as many times as they like, and while doing other activities. This flexibility is especially important for women who face additional constraints on their time, mobility, and access to information and public spaces. Listeners can also record their questions and comments about the messages on the Talking Books for LEVERAGE activity staff. Using Talking Books also enables women, men, and communities to continue to learn about their land rights during the COVID-19 pandemic when frequent large gatherings are not safe.

After listening to the Talking Books, communities hold a town hall meeting to discuss their questions with local land tenure experts. Town halls include separate sessions for women to raise their questions and challenges with land rights in a setting that is less public and less influenced by gendered dynamics of public speaking. Questions that community members raise during town halls and that they record on the Talking Books will inform segments of Landesa’s nationally broadcast Land Is Life radio show. The show features prominent Liberian personalities andlinks communities across the country to a national conversation on women’s land rights. 

Bringing information on women’s land rights to women, men, and youth and fostering community conversations about women’s land rights at a time when Liberia’s communities are beginning the process of formalizing land rights and establishing community land governance bodies is critical. The LEVERAGE activity aims to increase women’s participation in land governance and supports their secure and equitable access to land according to the law. 

Why Women’s Land Rights Matter

Ownership and control over assets are central to women’s economic empowerment and their ability to contribute to local, national, and global economies. For many women, the most valuable of these assets are the land and natural resources from which they earn a living, provide for their families, and invest in their communities. Through programs, partnerships, research and policy reforms, USAID is working on the ground to address  the barriers women face to accessing and controlling land, as well as the benefits that secure land and resource rights bring to women, their families, and communities.


INRM Digest, December 2021: Evidence methods

Across the U.S. Government, USAID is a leader in using evidence.  Evidence-based programming is a foundation for effective development. One of INRM’s main tasks is to assist USAID’s Operating Units with the use of evidence to support integrated ENRM programming. For example, using evidence and knowledge to strengthen gender equality and social inclusion is a core focus of INRM, which is reflected across all of its activities and buy-ins. INRM deploys a combination of methods for evidence generation and synthesis, aiming to improve the utility of knowledge products to inform future programming decisions.

See below for some related updates from INRM and resources from across USAID that explore the use of evidence to support the achievement of development objectives.

In this digest:

INRM’s current evidence work

  • Applying systematic approaches to fill evidence gaps for artisanal and small-scale gold mining in Colombia
  • Adapting analytical solutions to efficiently gather evidence on economic well-being in Madagascar
  • Using a combination of methods to investigate impacts of COVID-19 on USAID environment programming
  • Using evidence to test hypotheses about the effectiveness of participatory natural resources management strategic approaches

Additional USAID resources on evidence

Read the full digest here.

Zambia’s House of Chiefs Speak Up for Gender Equality

Gender equality guidelines will motivate Zambia’s traditional leaders to champion women’s rights in land and resource management

Women in Zambia, like in most countries, have less access to land, productive resources, and opportunities than men. Due to discriminatory gender norms that view men as heads of household, men typically have more decision making power at both the household and community level. This leads women to have less of a voice in decisions about land use, income earning opportunities, household finances, and community resource distribution. 

Traditional leaders hold political, social, and cultural power in the country, and as such, can play a key role in shifting harmful gender norms and advancing gender equality. Under Zambia’s 2014 National Gender Policy, traditional leaders are required to promote gender equality in their chiefdoms. In response to this mandate, the House of Chiefs, an elected body of chiefs that provides coordination and operational support to traditional leaders throughout the country, have proven they are willing to promote gender equality advocacy campaigns, taking a proactive role in rolling out the Campaign Against Child Marriages and Gender-Based Violence and the National Action Plan on Climate Change. However, when it comes to practical action, they lack the tools to turn these national advocacy strategies into real local level reforms. 

Gender Guidelines 

In November, the House of Chiefs launched the Gender Guidelines for Traditional Leaders in the Management of Natural Resources in their Chiefdoms. The guidelines are a set of practices for strengthening women’s land and resource rights within Zambia’s 288 chiefdoms. They provide traditional leaders with tools to encourage gender equality in policies and activities at the local level. The guidelines are the result of a multi-year partnership between the United States Agency for International Development’s (USAID) Integrated Land and Resource Governance (ILRG) program and the Zambia House of Chiefs to promote women’s land rights, address harmful gender norms, and increase women’s participation in natural resource management. 

Other activities under this partnership include the Chalimbana University Diploma Course on Traditional Leadership, a masterclass specifically designed for Chiefs and traditional leaders, which includes gender equality and social inclusion in its curriculum and is now in its second year. USAID is also working with indunas, or the local advisors to chiefs, in a year-long dialogue focused on identifying and changing gender norms that hinder women’s land rights. 

The guidelines focus on strengthening gender-responsiveness in areas and practices where chiefs have legal and social power such as land, forestry, wildlife, water, agriculture, climate change, child marriage, and education. In the area of women’s access and ownership of lands, the guidelines promote the participation of women in land committees, and they ban practices that amount to land-grabs from widows, including forcing widows to marry a husband’s relative in order to access land. In forest management, the guidelines bring women into local community forest management groups and provide access to extension services. Across the guidelines, chiefs are encouraged to challenge discriminatory gender norms and champion women leaders. The guidelines also provide tools to track progress against common goals and assess how these leaders are contributing to broader national gender equality initiatives. 

Zambia’s chiefs, including Chief Maguya, are the custodians and administrators of the majority of Zambia’s land and natural resources. They control access to lands and forests, and their decisions are binding on the individuals who live within their chiefdoms. Chiefs are increasingly interested in securing the rights of their subjects, both men and women, through documented land rights. Photo: Matt Sommerville
Zambia’s chiefs, including Chieftainess Mkanda, are the custodians and administrators of the majority of Zambia’s land and natural resources. They control access to lands and forests, and their decisions are binding on the individuals who live within their chiefdoms. Chiefs are increasingly interested in securing the rights of their subjects, both men and women, through documented land rights. Photo: Matt Sommerville


Across Zambia, traditional leaders have a great deal of power and influence. They have jurisdiction over vast swaths of customary land and resources and control everything from land use and access to inheritance rights. In their chiefdoms, they hold decision making power, mediate disputes, and act as the liaison with government officials. As authorities on cultural practices, traditional leaders can play a key role as champions of gender equality at the local level where discriminatory gender norms drastically restrict women’s access to and control over land and resources. These guidelines are a crucial step, as national laws that protect women’s land rights and inheritance protections do not extend to customary land. 

The guidelines will first be piloted in two areas over the next year to help assess how the House of Chiefs can support their implementation across Zambia’s 288 chiefdoms. Launched by the Chair of the House of Chiefs, Senior Chief Luembe, and the Minister of Local Government and Rural Development, Gary Nkombo, the guidelines provide an example of how chiefs can create local and culturally appropriate practices that respond to government policy. Minister Nkombo highlighted the importance of chiefs in influencing customs, particularly in rural areas.

“These guidelines take us a step further in achieving our goal as a Ministry to operationalize the gender policy and achieve the developmental goals of our nation,”  Minister Nkombo said at the event.

There is no doubt that the measures proposed in these guidelines, if well implemented, will greatly benefit our chiefdoms and help us live our mandate as gender champions,” explains His Royal Highness Chief Luembe, Chairperson, House of Chiefs.

“We need to empower women with knowledge so they can raise their voices.”

Q&A with three rural women from Tolima about claiming their land rights and inspiring women in their communities.

This blog was originally published by Land for Prosperity. 

As part of the massive land formalization campaign in Ataco Municipality, Tolima, USAID Land for Prosperity Activity joined Colombia’s Land Restitution Unit (URT) to deliver a series of workshops to empower rural women ranging in age about property rights, land ownership, the care economy, and gender-based violence.

The women, who are involved in land restitution and formalization processes, will then replicate the knowledge with other women from their communities. In this interview, the following three women talk about their experience:

  • Jimena Gutiérrez, 18, is finishing high school and works as a guard for the Mesa de Pole indigenous community.
  • Laura Sanabria, 26, is a feminist and sociology student, an activist, and the leader of the Ataicamas Santiago Perez youth organization.
  • Aracely Montano, 56, is a mother, housewife, and for the two years has been involved in a land restitution process.

Why do you think these empowerment workshops are only for women?

Aracely: Our gender has been abandoned, and they don’t listen to us. Because of sexism, men are always the ones who lead and make decisions.

Jimena: So that women are empowered and fight for their rights. Women’s rights are constantly being violated, and these spaces highlight how women are also capable, just as much as men.

Which do you think is the biggest obstacle that women face in their communities when it comes to expressing their rights?

Aracely: Because of sexism we have never been heard, men are always saying that they are the only ones that can work or start a project, and we can’t. They always say: “You? Who is going to listen to you? Leave it to us men.”

Laura Sanabria leads the Ataicamas Santiago Perez youth organization.

Laura: The biggest obstacle here is the ignorance of the population. Most institutions are centralized in the department’s capital, even though Ataco has 107 villages and most of the population lives in rural areas.

How can women begin to overcome these obstacles?

Jimena: Working together as women, because honestly, there is very little that one can achieve alone. But if we come together to fight for our rights and for ourselves, we can show people that we are capable and we can achieve what we put our mind to, we can change the law.

Laura: We need government institutions to come closer to our rural territories, to be present in the villages and reach the communities. We need strategies like this one. The government needs to reach small villages, visit the people, promote the roels and responsibilities of each entity, and tell us how we can access services related to gender and youth policies.

What benefits do you see for women who participate in these workshops?

Laura: Even though the main topic is rural property, several subjects that reach beyond land titling and restitution have emerged. These spaces have enhanced the ability of women to recognize gender-based violence, to recognize the fundamental work that they fulfill when it comes to caring for their homes and society at large; and especially to understand that the women’s work has not been valued as it should be, that women are instead invisible. The workshops have also taught us about self-care, because knowing about the dynamics of gender based violence allow us to create strategies to take care of ourselves, to decide that we do not want to experience this violence, and question certain practices that were once seen as normal.

The Land for Prosperity Activity created gender and social inclusion guidelines for the implementation of massive formalization efforts that focus on increasing the knowledge of women about land rights and the care economy. In Ataco, this includes a municipal commitment to guarantee the inclusion and participation of women, youth, and ethnic communities in all phases of land formalization.

The massive land formalization campaign, funded by USAID in partnership with the government, has reached and trained nearly 600 people in Ataco, of whom nearly half are women.

What has been the most important lesson that you have learned during the workshops?

Jimena: The workshop has highlighted our rights and taught us to fight for ourselves and support each other. There is a lot of criticism between women, but here they teach us to join forces and work together. As far as land ownership, even though we do not have the documents for the land we live on, there is a chance that it will be ours and the land title will have our names on it. We have been living there for over 10 years, this is the opportunity to have a home of our own.

 What does the term “empowered woman” mean to you?

Aracely: A woman who wants to move forward, a fighter, an entrepreneur, who starts her own projects, goes out, interacts with different people and projects, knocks on doors, asks for help, and in this way brings her village and her family forward.

How does empowerment result in women stand up for their rights?

Laura: We need to stop and reflect and understand what’s wrong. Once we know our rights, we can begin to question unhealthy practices that damage women, and raise our voices and fight for our land rights. Until we understand that, our capacity to demand our rights is non-existent because we will be unsure. We need to empower women with knowledge so they can raise their voices.

How do you plan to replicate this knowledge with your communities?

Ximena: We have monthly meetings with the women from my indigenous reservation, so there I will replicate what I have learned, so that women can understand their property rights.

Aracely: In my village, Pueblo Nuevo, I will share with all women who want to participate in social programs.

Laura: I am part of an organization called Ataicamas, and we were already thinking of hosting gender workshops. We want to start organizing workshops for women, especially about empowerment and economic independence.


Women’s Land Rights Champion: Marcela Chaves

Each month, we will feature a Women’s Land Rights Champion within USAID to learn more about their work. This month’s Champion is Marcela Chaves of USAID/Colombia.  

Tell us about yourself.

Marcela Chaves (right), USAID/Colombia

My name is Marcela Chaves and I have worked for USAID/Colombia since 2009. I am a business administrator and have an MBA. I was born in Colombia, moved and grew up in New York, and returned to Colombia many years ago. My professional career started in the private sector. I have been working on land issues with USAID for over ten years now and have fallen in love with land work. I have been able to understand how supporting land rights can make a difference in very complex and challenging environments, and how it can have a positive and transformational impact on rural families in Colombia.

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

Women’s land rights are a central piece of our work in the Rural and Economic Development Office at USAID/Colombia and a cross-cutting issue for our Mission. As part of the support provided to the Colombian state to advance towards more cost efficient land titling in rural areas, and in order to have a better chance to reach all those families that have been waiting for years and sometimes decades to access these titles, securing women’s equal access to these property rights is vital. Leaving women behind is never an option. Besides, research shows that helping women to access their rights to land results in significant benefits to the health and education conditions of their households and increases their ability to invest in agricultural production long-term. Additionally, the only way USAID’s land governance work can be sustainable once assistance ends is to make sure equal rights to land are promoted and that local governments have the necessary capacity to enact sound land governance policies on their own.

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

Based on what we have seen so far, there are several challenges to helping women secure land rights, including: 1) institutional barriers that exclude women from obtaining a land title 2) the need to sensitize public officials in the importance of including  women in land titling either as heads of households or jointly as part of a couple, and 3) cultural barriers that prevent women from knowing what their rights are and how to exercise them, among others. To address these challenges, USAID has provided support through two different land programs. The current program is Land for Prosperity. This program includes coming to agreement with the government to use forms that collect women’s information for subsequent title processing, providing training and tools for government officials to better understand the importance of doing so, and working with communities to sensitize all relevant actors about the importance of women’s land rights through tools such as radio soap operas, songs, and community plays that convey these important messages. 

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

One of the main successes has been issuing land titles with the Colombian government in which at least 50% of the beneficiaries are women. A second important success has been demonstrating how women can become more active and participate more in USAID-supported  activities to do massive land titling; the majority of the social leaders supporting parcel sweeps in targeted municipalities are women. Finally, being able to agree on titling methods that include women’s rights and create pathways to process their cases has been an important step forward. 

Anything else you want to share?

Every time we have the chance to go to the field and see the excitement of all the women who access a land title, it fills my heart with joy and makes all the effort worthwhile.  

Women Claim their Space in Land Governance

Cross-posted from IIED. Guest blogger Megan Huth details how USAID is employing a novel approach to ensure that rural women participate in decisions about land and natural resource use in Liberia

In Liberia, in May 2021, the Bluyema Clan’s most outspoken and politically active women gathered to agree who would run for election for the leadership positions of its Community Land Development and Management Committee (hereafter, “the Committee”) — the body responsible for making decisions on land management and use.

Bluyema is nestled in thick forests along the Liberia-Guinea border where, like most tenure systems in Liberia, land rights are based on customary laws derived from local lineage-based governance systems. But the lack of community-led land governance tools has left many rural communities—and women in particular—stripped of their rights to forests or viable agricultural land.

The 2018 Land Rights Act recognized customary land ownership and provided a legal mechanism for rural communities to secure land tenure. The Act requires communities to include women and youth representatives as equal partners in local land governance structures, like the Committee. Despite these legal provisions, discriminatory gender norms prevent women from speaking about and participating in political matters in rural communities like Bluyema. Village leadership roles are almost always held by men.

Reaching Out to Women 

These all-women gatherings to discuss leadership within the Committee were facilitated by the Liberian land rights organization, Sustainable Development Institute (SDI), in partnership with the USAID-funded Integrated Land and Resource Governance (ILRG) program. The discussions are part of a broader strategy to increase the participation of women in community land governance.

In the run-up to the Committee elections, SDI highlighted land experts and civil society leaders on “Radio Life”, a radio program that was broadcast multiple times in communities in Lofa County where Bluyema is located. The radio program provided general information about the customary land governance process and encouraged women to participate in land management bodies, such as the Committee.

“More than anything, the radio show was aimed at men to support women in their quest to engage with the land documentation process,” explains Nora Bowier, SDI Coordinator.

The radio talk show also provided a conduit to reach communities who are not currently involved with customary land documentation and show them that adjacent communities like Bluyema are taking advantage of documentation to secure the future of their land.

All-women sessions help prepare the community’s women to take on roles in land governance, a space traditionally dominated by men, Zorzor, Lofa County. Photo credit: Sustainable Development Institute Liberia

In the week prior to Committee elections in Bluyema, Bowier and other SDI coordinators led gender-focused discussions with approximately 30 women. Discussions focused on women’s land rights, women’s participation in land and natural resource management, and strategies to effectively work with male counterparts. The women discussed and decided who should run for the Committee’s leadership roles, while also developing community outreach and campaign strategies. Bowier also worked with each candidate on a one-on-one basis, providing the women with a safe space for open discussions about their concerns and needs.

Just a day before the election, Gbelee Sumo — who decided to run for the position of Chairperson after the all-women gatherings — gave a memorable campaign speech to the community, calling for women to stand up and support each other.

“She stood up to build the confidence of the community,” Bowier recalls. “Gbelee is eager to lead and to represent the voices of women who have been marginalized for generations. She made it clear there is a space where women will sit at the same table with their male counterparts.”

New Outcomes, New Leaders

Gbelee Sumo (r), chairperson, and the treasurer of Bluyema’s Community Land Development and Management Committee. Photo credit: Sustainable Development Institute Liberia

In June 2021, four women were elected to both the Vice Chairperson and Treasurer leadership positions in the Committees throughout Lofa County. Gbelee Sumo, the leader from Bluyema, became Liberia’s first Committee chairperson. “The project is helping to open the eyes of women who have been placed at the margin of society in terms of decision-making and participation in local government,” says Chairperson Sumo.

Over the past 18 months, USAID partner SDI reached over 300 women from more than 30 rural communities across Liberia. As a result, 60 women are now elected Committee officers in three counties, representing just under 50 percent of the available leadership positions.

Land Stewards

Communities like Bluyema, which have successfully created by-laws and community land governance committees that meet the Land Rights Act’s requirements for women’s participation, can now continue with the land documentation process outlined by Liberia’s Land Authority in a more representative and inclusive way.

When land management committees represent a wider cross-section of the community, they can significantly improve land and natural resource management. Women often know more about boundary lines, because they are the ones engaged in agro-forestry activities like growing food and collecting firewood.

In addition, rural communities rely on logging as their principal means of income, and with an inclusive governance body where women play a key role, logging revenue is more likely to benefit the entire community and not just one person or one family.

“Corruption is being reduced. We have already seen some examples where communities are putting a halt to land grabbing,” says Bowier. “It is now more difficult for a chief to single-handedly come up with a contract between himself and a logging concession.”

Impact Evaluation

USAID has worked to strengthen inclusive land governance in Liberia for more than a decade. A recent impact evaluation of USAID-led customary land interventions shows that this type of governance is novel for many communities, and behavior change does not happen overnight. Continued efforts are needed to engage men as supporters of women’s leadership, ensure that women’s participation is truly meaningful, and avoid risks of backlash and gender-based violence for these new women leaders.

Continuing the work

To provide longevity and sustainability to the efforts and support for the Liberia Land Authority and Liberia’s rural communities, USAID continues to implement land tenure programs across Liberia. In 2021, USAID kicked off the Liberia Land Management Activity, a four-year, $9.4 million project that will build on inclusive management of communal land and promote the formalization of land rights in Liberia, with special consideration for the rights of women and marginalized groups.


Megan Huth headshotAbout the author: Megan Huth is a Senior Associate in Tetra Tech’s Land Tenure and Property Rights sector and the Project Manager for the USAID Integrated Land and Resource Governance (ILRG) program.