Decision-making and political leadership: the Gender Dimension

October 17, 2019

Although the government is making efforts to adopt policies and mechanisms to ensure women’s active presence in decision-making, it is only one step in the right direction. Women are still grossly under-represented in policy and decision-making processes, in public and private spheres, thereby denying them the opportunity to effect change. Only 12.33% of the current legislators are females. During the 2018 general elections, one of the political parties took a step to have more female candidates by offering to pay the nomination fees for all its female candidates. However, this did not materialize in having more female candidates because those prospective females could not overcome other obstacles like discrimination, intimidation, lack of funds for campaign and low self-esteem.

Similarly with leadership at local levels, women experience discriminations of varying types including prohibition from holding certain positions in some communities. For example, women in the Northern Regions and in Kono District in the Eastern Region cannot become Paramount Chiefs despite recent changes in chieftaincy election rules.  The Chieftaincy Act of 2009 is ineffective because it has been interpreted by the courts to permit discrimination based on sex and customs.

Within the private spheres, women are mostly confined to their traditional sex roles as wives or mothers and care-givers. Politically, they are largely restricted to roles in the traditional arena such as Soweis (heads of female secret societies) or Mammy Queen (women’s leaders).

With regards to legal frameworks that can enhance women’s chances to hold leadership and decision-making positions, there is the challenge of harmonising customary laws with statutory laws and consequently bringing them in line with international human rights instruments. The government is yet to develop strategies for implementing, monitoring and evaluating policies, laws and programmes that support women’s increased role in decision-making and leadership. Budgetary support for women’s empowerment and gender equality programmes and projects are also grossly inadequate.

To deal with the issues above, the Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs in collaboration with its partners including women’s groups, traditional and religious leaders, Local Councils, Family Support Units and civil society groups, identified Gender, Decision-making and political leadership as part of the thirteen priority areas for the Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment (GEWE) Policy and programmatic interventions to decrease gender inequality in Sierra Leone. The policy areas of focus, objectives and strategic actions for Gender, Decision-making and political leadership are as follows:

Policy objective Gender, Decision-making and political leadership: Improve Sierra Leonean women’s access to political leadership and decision-making at all levels

Sierra Leonean women are still under represented in parliament, government, boards, agencies, educational institutions especially universities and national and local committees as leaders despite calls by gender and human rights activists over the years for women’s active and equal  participation in political leadership and decision-making.  There have been calls for 30% quota but these have received only lip service and no move have been made to implement it. Obstacles to women’s leadership include entrenched cultural perceptions about women’s role in comparison to those of men in political leadership and decision making, women’s low self-esteem coupled with lack of women’s empowerment programmes, high level of illiteracy among women, poverty, intimidation and women’s limited participation in electoral processes.  Women’s full and active participation is crucial for sustained economic development and peace and security.  In recognition of this fact, the government has appointed few women into key leadership positions including the judiciary which has had its first female Attorney General. However a lot remains to be done to increase the percentage of female political leaders and decision makers.

Strategic Actions

  • PPRC to review the political parties’ Act to mandate political parties to implement the minimal 30% quota at all levels
  • Political parties to develop and adopt gender policies that will lead to the review of political parties’ constitutions and policies to be gender sensitive
  • Adopt affirmative action like minimal 30% quota in political parties and governance at all levels
  • Amend the constitution to incorporate affirmative actions to ensure women’s participation in decision-making and political leadership
  • Reform local and traditional laws and align them with statutory laws to allow women’s participation in leadership and decision-making at national and local levels
  • Raise awareness on the benefits of women’s participation in leadership and decision-making
  • Create a data base on potential women for leadership and decision-making positions and regularly share this with stakeholders including the office of the president and MDAs
  • Boost women’s confidence and self-esteem to take leadership positions, through training, mentoring and other empowerment programmes
  • Institute, support and promote empowerment programmes for young women including mentorship, to increase their self-esteem and assertiveness
  • Re-create a functional gender advisory office in the president’s office to exhibit political will to mainstream gender into all government policies, programmes and interventions
  • Provide gender sensitization for parliamentarians and local councilors
  • Enhance the capacity of female parliamentarians and local councilors including in public speaking, advocacy and leadership
  • Encourage, nominate and support female parliamentary aspirants to compete in safe and winnable constituencies
  • Increase women’s confidence to compete for elective positions by enforcing laws prohibiting all types of campaign related violence
  • Encourage political parties to set up special funds to assist female candidates and persons with disabilities to participate in general elections
  • Eradicate cultural practices that forbid or discourage women’s political leadership and decision-making
  • Promote women leaders as role models

The Media Reform Coordinating Group through its constituent organisations, Women in the Media Sierra Leone, Independent Radio Network (IRN) and the Guild of Newspapers Editors (GoE), is leading a campaign on ‘Improving Women’s Political Participation’ supported by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). The two key activities are ‘Media Campaigns to disseminate different instruments on women, peace and security’ and ‘Capture and showcase the contribution of women to governance and peacebuilding efforts.’ This article is part of MRCG’s public education campaign on the different instruments guaranteeing women’s peace and security and showcasing their contributions to governance and peacebuilding initiatives.