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Like Ella Koblo Gulama, like Bernadette Lahai

…women must take the lead

July 22, 2015 By Mohamed Massaquoi

Minority Leader of the House of Parliament, Hon. Dr. Bernadette Lahai

Minority Leader of the House of Parliament, Hon. Dr. Bernadette Lahai

There is still a major gap between men and women in the political governance of Sierra Leone. This is because many communities are doubtful of women’s leadership. But a lot of efforts have been made by women to attain gender equality in all spheres of life. These agitations started immediately after the colonial administration as Sierra Leoneans were yearning to govern themselves. The name Ella Koblo Gulama will never be forgotten as an activist and women’s leader who strongly advocated for a change in the political landscape of Sierra Leone. The late Madam Gulama was the first female Parliamentarian in Sierra Leone and she had always wanted her fellow women folks to take the lead at all political levels.

Only recently, Sierra Leoneans – both men and women, including MPs – in the country congratulated Hon. Dr. Bernadette Lahai, Member of Parliament representing Constituency 13 in the Kenema District, on her election to the office of the Vice President of the Pan African Parliament.

Congratulating the newly elected Vice President, the Majority Leader in Parliament, Hon. Ibrahim Bundu, noted that Dr. Lahai is the first West African woman in history to occupy that position. He said Sierra Leoneans must learn a lesson that Sierra Leone is moving higher.

According to a Campaign for Good Governance (CGG) report on Women in Political Governance in Sierra Leone, “the establishment of the Millennium Development Goals on gender equality and the development of the good governance agenda has increased the interest of the international development community in the role of women within governance and the need to strengthen women’s political participation”.

The report further stated: “It is now widely recognised that women’s exclusion from decision making results in state institutions and  policies that do not address gender inequalities and are not accountable or responsive to women citizens, thereby perpetuating women’s political, social and economic marginalisation. Women’s participation in politics is therefore recognized to be both a right and a requirement for effective development, and it is generally agreed that a critical mass of women in politics is needed in order to have policy impact (usually estimated at 30 percent of parliamentarians being women).”

Hon. Lahai, in her response, said: “I’m happy for the unflinching support given me to win the election. I thank His Excellency the President, Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma, for his support [for leading the country’s delegation to the Pan African Parliament] at the various stages of the elections [nomination, secondment and voting].” She added: “President Koroma told me that his government was going to support me to clinch the position. He matched his words with actions by working tirelessly and mobilising all the necessary support for me to win the vice presidency seat.”

“My election is not only for the women folks of Sierra Leone, but will also create an opportunity for every Sierra Leonean. This is the first time somebody is representing us at such a higher level. Our advocacy will continue as women so that there will be an equal opportunity for both men and women in the Sierra Leonean society,” she concluded.

Hon. Lahai’s victory in far away South Africa is likely to increase the focus on women’s political participation in the country, and this will serve as a catalyst for donors to support women’s participation in political processes. It will also encourage broader efforts in integrating gender into the good governance agenda of the country.