A coalition led by women for women
CFLEDD is a coalition led by women for women. With its broad membership base, it is also deeply connected to other civil society movements. Among the membership, there is a wealth and diversity of experience and knowledge:
What makes the work of CFLEDD unique is that it is developing the tools to build women’s land tenure rights into documentation from the start, to guarantee women the same land rights as men. Its aim is to ensure that women’s rights, just like indigenous peoples’ rights, are explicitly addressed in new laws and decrees related to land tenure and that people are made aware of these rights, however remote their community.
“Our role is to help members of the community, particularly women, to air their grievances and claim their rights through the correct channels. This has led to a decree on forest rights. Communities need to know their rights.”
The absence of a clear legal framework governing land rights has made it easier for large agricultural, timber and mining corporations to gain access to land. Customary land tenure – where the land is owned and maintained by rural and indigenous communities who have traditionally managed it – often has no formal legal basis, so rural communities, both local and indigenous, can find themselves excluded, regardless of how well they know the land and how long they have lived there. To compound this problem, a wide variety of languages and high levels of illiteracy in rural areas means that many people, particularly in the most remote communities, are unaware of any rights they do have, or are unable to understand the legal processes and documentation required to secure them. In this context, CFLEDD has had to overcome numerous obstacles to ensure that women get a place at the table for discussions about land rights. And, Néné says, its work was not universally welcomed.
“We started out very small, with very little funding, but even so we met resistance from some people, who said things like ‘Don’t listen to those women. They’re not capable of doing big projects like that. Don’t give money to those women – they don’t know how to manage it’ and so on.”
Despite these struggles, she is proud that the coalition has now become the go to organisation for women’s rights in environmental and sustainable development circles in the DRC.
“Anybody who needs information or wants to be involved in questions of women’s rights now comes to us. There was a gap for an organisation that could fight for the rights of women within the context of the environment and natural resources, because women simply haven’t had a place at the table. We are now filling that gap.”
Néné’s journalistic experience and networks have been instrumental in developing an effective communications strategy for the organisation, helping its message reach a broader audience and forcing provincial and national authorities to take its work seriously.
Spreading the message on women’s land rights in Kasai Oriental province, DRC. Image © CFLEDD
For Néné, the best way to protect the interests of rural communities and conserve biodiversity is to ensure that communities have the right to manage the land in the same way as they have always done:
“It’s simply the traditional way of managing the land – it’s really a simple usage plan. When we visit a village, they show us how they use the land: ‘here is where we grow our crops, here are the sacred sites, this is our river and water source, here is where we cut wood’. Our role involves helping them to make maps of their land use and officially record it. Land uses are defined and made official through the mapping process.”
What makes its approach stand out, however, is the involvement of women from the very beginning of the process. With the input of rural and indigenous women to mapping land use in communities, and their participation in dialogues about how to manage their land, CFLEDD can start to build women’s rights into a legal framework. Up to now, nothing has been put down on paper, so this documentation can bring recognition and protection, helping to protect communities from future land grabs and guaranteeing their right to use the land in a traditional and sustainable way.
From small seeds…
Synchronicity Earth has recently supported CFLEDD’s work in the province of Kasaï Oriental. Their presence in this province is vital, since there are very few other organisations willing to work there. It has vast mineral wealth – with huge deposits of diamonds – but it is a difficult and challenging environment to work in.
Initially, CFLEDD sent a team there to hold discussions with provincial politicians, lawmakers and members of civil society.
“The idea was to identify the rights women have and who owns the land in this region in Kasaï so we could start to develop community forestry projects to allow women to have multiple usage spaces to cultivate crops and practice conservation.”
CFLEDD was inspired by the willingness of local communities to take part in these discussions and the fact that – knowing the work that had been done elsewhere – these communities were very keen for CFLEDD to come to their province.
In Kasaï Oriental, CFLEDD