Gender and Land Rights Database

Sierra Leone

In 2013, the total population was estimated at 6,190.28 million, of which 3,149.00 million were women. Of the total population, 3,559.33 lived in rural areas (1). 

In 2012, the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was USD 3.796 billion, while the per capita GDP was USD 634.92, with an annual average growth rate of 15.2 percent (2). The economy of Sierra Leone is driven by primary commodities, mainly agriculture and mineral production but the size of their contributions to the GDP is shifting. Agriculture, including forestry and fisheries still accounts for the largest GDP share but this share is declining (3). In 2011, agriculture contributed to 56.7 percent of the GDP (2), the industry accounted for 8.3 percent and services accounted for 35 percent (2) of the GDP. However, the contribution of the mining sector to the GDP is expected to reach 30% in 2017 due to the expansion in existing large scale iron ore operations. In 2011, the population density was estimated at 82 people per square kilometre (2).

With a Human Development Index (HDI) of 0.359 in 2012, the country ranks 177 out of 186 countries measured (4). In 2011 51.7 percent of the total population lived below the USD 1 per day poverty line (5). Data from the same year indicates that 28.8% of the population was undernourished (26). Life expectancy at birth was estimated to be 45.1 years for women and 44.9 years for men (26). The literacy rate of 15-24 year-olds indicates a great disparity between men and women with levels reaching 70.5 percent of men but only 52.1 percent of women (5).  

In 2010 the agricultural share of the economically active population was estimated at 60.1 percent (6). The female share of the economically active population in agriculture was 61.7 percent (6).

With the enactment of the Independence Act of 1961 Sierra Leone achieved independence from Great Britain. The civil war, social unrest and unstable government led to disruptions in the social and economic life of the country. Over 20,000 people lost their lives and about two million were displaced in addition to over half a million who fled to neighbouring states as refugees (7). 

Since the cessation of hostilities in 2002, Sierra Leone has made remarkable progress in its peace and state building process, evidenced by an enduring peace, a system of shared political power and constitutional rule and by three national peaceful elections and democratic transitions (3). This translated into economic growth, restoration of the rule of law, improved service delivery, and citizen participation in governance through enhanced voice and accountability (3).

The country is divided into 4 administrative areas: Western Area, Eastern Province, Southern Province and Northern Province. The Provinces are divided into 12 districts. There are two additional districts in the Western area, and 149 chiefdoms. There are seventeen ethnic groups in Sierra Leone with the largest group, the Mende, in the Eastern province. The Temne, the second largest followed by the Limba are dominant in the Northern Province. Other groups are the Kono and Kissi in the East, the Koranko, Mandingo, Loko, Susu, Fullah and Yalunka are in the Northern Province. The Sherbro, Vai, Gola and Krim are in parts of the South and East. The Creoles are found mainly in the Western Area. There is a high political tension based on ethnicity in the Northern and Eastern Provinces of the country. The two major religions in Sierra Leone are Islam and Christianity which are recognised by the state and their rites observed at national and civic functions (7).

Sierra Leone has a dual system of land tenure: the communal land system where land is vested in the Government and the customary land system where land belongs to a particular family in the community. In the Provinces, women’s access to land is determined by traditional and religious customs that remain deeply rooted in patriarchal values. 

Typically, women harvest cassava and process it while men manage rice farming and tree crop plantations for cash income. Farms managed by women usually rely on inter-cropping systems that aim to protect the household against crop failure, and vegetable gardens, which provide micro-nutrients, vitamins, minerals, fibre, and slow-release carbohydrates. Women are generally expected to carry the expenditures associated with school fees and medical costs.

This makes them prone to entering exploitative debt relationships and being subject to labour exploitation. Traditionally, women are also the primary care-givers in the household. Domestic and farm work mean that there is little leisure time for women or opportunity for their participation in political processes, community activities and training (22).

Sources: numbers in brackets (*) refer to sources displayed in the Bibliography