Monrovia – A group of rural and urban poor women under the banner of the ‘Natural Resource Women Platform’ has catalogued abuses and untold suffering that they have been allegedly subjected to by concession companies operating in the country. The Natural Resource Women Platform is a local NGO that was founded in 2010 by uneducated marginalized, rural poor and urban slum dweller women who are involved with rock crushing, charcoal and palm oil production, farming, sand mining and fishing.

Speaking at the validation of a report conducted by the group’s Secretariat on the ‘Impacts of Liberia’s Large Scale Concessions Land Development on Women’s Land and Natural Resources Tenure Rights’, the women alleged that concession companies have repeatedly violated their (women) rights without redress from the state.

The women, who came from communities across the country, disclosed that companies operating in the mining, agricultural and extractive sectors failed to seek their free, prior and informed consent before commencing works in their areas. For instance, Elizabeth Fahnbulah, a representative from Grand Cape Mount County alleged that New Liberty Gold Mine Project, a company mining gold in the county uprooted an entire community against the wish of residents, especially women who cultural shrine were destroyed.

Elizabeth explained that women who depended on farming and fishing in Lajor and Kinjor, Grand Cape Mount County are facing difficulty in a ‘strange land’ were she claimed they were relocated to. “We are displaced in our own land and can’t do anything for ourselves,” she lamented. For statement was buttressed by Wlayor S.C. Tipayson, Program Associate of the Natural Resource Women Platform who said the group also documented the destruction of cultural sites and the forcibly removal of ancestral graves.

Madam Tipayson alleged that Community members from affected towns were forced to relocate, provide their own building materials for their homes but received no resettlement packages as promised.  She also disclosed that the there is poor communication between residents in the affected area and the company and the former have little information about the company’s operations or labor related matters.

Exhibiting pictures, Madam Tipayson noted that “bathroom and toilet facilities remain a major challenge; only three flush toilets built by the company are still in use while bathrooms have been locked by individuals with only one available.” Sanitation is fast becoming a problem as many residents are resorting to using the nearby bushes for toilets while a good health facility is still a dream yet to come true for residents who were relocated. Annie Tue, a resident of Butaw District in Sinoe County disclosed that women were never part of discussions that resulted into the cultivation of oil palm on their farmland in Sinoe County.

She noted that their rights to land have been lost, as they (women) struggle daily to do odd jobs with Golden Veroleum for survivor because: “We can’t farm anymore.” Maminah Carr, Head of Secretariat at the Natural Resource Women Platform collaborated that the reproductive and labor rights of women in Sinoe are being violated. She claimed that pregnant women working for Golden Veroleum Liberia (GVL) have to ride trucks or tractors over long distances to go to work, and any single day missed is not paid for. She said the organization was told that many women have developed backaches as a result of the strenuous work involved in manually filling and transporting 80 polybags of earth (dirt) daily to nursery sites.

According to her, women have lost access to forest resources, while rivers have been stopped from flowing and hand pumps have been built. “Women can no longer get their fresh fish because the rivers have been dammed or polluted by the company,” she noted. “There is no forest for hunting anymore because the forests have been cleared and cultivated with oil palm,” Madam Carr said. She told the validation workshop that women from Butaw District, who got employment with the company are being dismissed because according their husbands are demanding their rights to free, prior and informed consent over lands taken over by the company.

Job insecurity, according to Madam Carr is high for women working with Golden Veroleum.  “Women working for the company in Maryland are unable to fully perform their reproductive roles. Women have not been consulted on the impacts of concessions. When the companies arrive, only men meet to discuss issues about the community,” Madam Carr noted.

Augusta Watson, a member of the group’s Secretariat provided information on the history of the group and disclosed that the Natural Resource Women Platform would empower and amplify women voices and as well highlight their challenges. Augusta noted that the Secretariat would champion the cause of Liberian women and make the necessary representations on behalf of the women to policy makers and international partners. When contacted, GVL public affairs office said it couldn’t immediately comment on the allegations because it is yet to see the study report, which is being validated.

As seen on Front Page Africa on March 1, 2016.