The Columbia Center on Sustainable Investment (CCSI) launched an Alumni Profile Series in which alumni of CCSI’s Executive Training on Sustainable Investments in Agriculture are interviewed about their career paths.
In this profile, Marian Amissah-Ocran Harrison, a Women’s Empowerment Programme Coordinator at the Initiative for Gender Equality and Development in Africa (IGED-Africa) and a 2017 Executive Training alumnus, discusses her work on legal and policy reforms regarding women’s economic empowerment and land rights.
1. What do you do for work?
I am a gender and land rights advocate, working as a Women’s Empowerment Programme Coordinator at the Initiative for Gender Equality and Development in Africa (IGED-Africa), a non-governmental organization (NGO) based in Ghana, which seeks to strengthen and promote the voice, capacity, and participation of women for development through advocacy, research and capacity building. My work informs policy and law reforms on women’s land and property rights and promotes economic empowerment in Ghana and throughout the African region.
2. What does a typical day look like?
On a typical day, I respond to emails, make follow up calls, and meet with relevant stakeholders, including partners and government officials. Depending on the project, I develop advocacy and information tools, concept papers, and articles. Sometimes I support awareness campaigns, trainings, and provide technical support to promote women’s access and rights to land and resources such as credit and markets. As a chartered accountant, I am also responsible for financial reporting at IGED-Africa.
3. How has your career trajectory led you to where you are today?
With my university background in Geography and Resource Development, I have always been intrigued by land as a resource. In 2005, when I got an opportunity to carry out data collection in Ghana for the Women & Housing Rights Programme of the Centre on Housing Rights & Eviction, I quickly connected to the issues African women face regarding their rights to property, emphasizing land as a key resource. I was particularly interested in how women’s ability to access land, claim ownership, use, and defend their rights to land and other natural resources is weakened by their status within the household and community as a result of discriminatory customary or statutory laws.
Regionally, I work to promote women’s resource rights using the human rights mechanisms developed through the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights. I recently partnered with Landesa’s Center for Women’s Land Rights to strengthen efforts of professionals on the African continent who engage with women’s land rights initiatives and interventions in Africa that align with achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This increased my focus on the SDGs related to rural women’s land rights, smallholder farmers, and land-based investments, which continue to guide my efforts improving women’s access to information, skills-based training, and resources to increase their economic independence.
4. What is one of your most memorable moments in your career and why?
In 2013 at the 54th Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights in Banjul, Gambia, I, together with my organization and a team of NGOs in Africa, advocated and lobbied for the adoption of the ground-breaking Resolution on Women’s Rights to Land and Other Productive Resources. With this resolution, the African Commission urged member states to fully comply with their obligations to ensure, protect, and promote women’s rights to land and property. This resolution called on member states to sanction customary practices that negatively impact women’s access to, use of, and control over land and other productive resources. This feat was a huge motivation for me to continue my work promoting women’s empowerment.
5. What major issue related to sustainable investments in land/agriculture are you particularly interested in at the moment?
Currently, my interests lie in the gender dimensions of investments in land and agriculture, specifically on the gender impacts of community- investor engagements.
I recently delivered a presentation on Sustainable Investments in Agriculture and the Gender Impacts at the Ministry of Food and Agriculture of Ghana, which was informed by the CCSI Executive Training. One of the issues that was discussed was that of investors who negotiated separately with different heads of families in a traditional area without the families knowing that they were all dealing with the same investor. The families only realized much later that they had sold a huge chunk of the community’s agricultural land which, had the neighboring families been better informed, could have been leveraged to yield more benefits to the community. The question was, what interventions could we develop to support traditional councils in Ghana, and provide the expertise for these kinds of land investment negotiations?
6. What was your main lesson learned or take away from the CCSI Executive Training on Sustainable Investments in Agriculture? How do you apply that lesson in your work?
The multi-disciplinary approach of CCSI’s Executive training, which blended expertise in investment, human rights, international law, land/agriculture with various fields of sustainable development, provided me with a broader perspective on the gender and land issues that I work on. During the training I learned that model guides and tools are being developed to equip communities with skills to better engage investors. Therefore, I am exploring the prospects of organizing a workshop to share this information and resource with civil society organizations and traditional leaders in Ghana.
7. What advice would you give to young professionals in your area of work?
The risks of land-based agricultural investments in most parts of Africa, Ghana included, have exceeded the benefits to local communities, especially women smallholder farmers. I advise young professionals in the land and agricultural sector to approach their work with a gender perspective. Understanding this is critical to achieving sustainable land-based investments and striving towards gender equality on the continent.
To my young development practitioners, land rights have often been viewed as a complex area to work on, however it is important that to be more effective, we approach this with a required multi-disciplinary focus, applying knowledge and expertise in environmental issues, investment, human rights, agriculture, and international law.
This interview was originally posted on the CCSI website.