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Gender, decision-making and political leadership

September 26, 2019

By Alusine Sesay

Dr.Fatou Taqi, President 50/50 Group

There has been a decade long advocacy around the equal representation of women in decision-making and political leadership in Sierra Leone. Prior to the 2012 election, SEND West Africa -Sierra Leone program sponsored the Kailahun District Women in Governance Network to launch the Women’s Manifesto -2012.

During the launch at the headquarters of the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists on Campbell Street in Freetown, President of the Kailahun District Women in Governance Network, Madam Mariama Gbow said women in Kailahun District made up half of an estimated 462,000 population,but have less than 5% representation in governance.

She lamented that out of the eight parliamentary seats then in the district only one is held by a woman, only four out of 29 councillors are women, and only 2 out of the 14 committees in the district council are headed by women.

In 2018 also, several women groups including 50/50 advocated for more symbols to be awarded to women, especially in the strongholds of political parties so that they could be equally represented in parliament.

Despite all the advocacies, women still represent a minute percentage in terms of decision making and political leadership in Sierra Leone and other parts of Africa.

A Commonwealth paper that was recently released at the 12th Women’s Affairs Ministers Meeting in Nairobi, Kenya, highlights that persistent gender stereotypes and prejudices in policymaking, budgeting and service delivery are disrupting progress in terms of equal opportunities for women.

“Only one in five Commonwealth parliamentarians is a woman. Of every 10 girls, only seven attend secondary school. Thirty-two countries do not mandate equal pay for work of equal value.”

In Sierra Leone, out of 146 Members of Parliament, only 15 are women. Out of 27 Cabinet Ministers, only 5 are women while 5 are deputy ministers. Since the trend of political marginalisation of women still lingers, women groups and other advocacy organisations, both nationally and internationally, are calling for equal representation of women in all spheres of life.

“We rely on the AU Principles which champions 50/50 representation among men and women. Women comprise a huge component of our population and as of right, therefore should determine decision about their lives through taking up leadership,” said Judy Gitau, Regional Coordinator, Africa Office, Equality Now.

Equality Now is a non-governmental organization that advocates for the protection and promotion of the human rights of women and girls. Through a combination of regional partnerships, community mobilization and legal advocacy the organization works to encourage governments to adopt, improve and enforce laws that protect and promote women and girls’ rights around the world.
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Madam Judy Gitau continued that: “Women are not asking for handouts .Just an erasure of systematic obstacles to their accessing opportunities .If girls are married as children, denied education and wind up on the streets, what chance do they have to become village leaders let alone the presidents? So, we are definitely in favour of equal representation for women.”

Sierra Leone in 2014 drafted the first Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment (GEWE) Policy as a lawful reference point for addressing gender inequalities by all stakeholders at national and community levels and family units throughout the country.

 Dr.Fatou Taqi is the President of the 50/50 Group, one of the oldest advocacy organisations for women’s empowerment in Sierra Leone.

According to her, the GEWE policy would guide the actions and decisions that people take not only at political levels, but also within the homes and small offices across the country.

“Having the policy is a good step because it would guide our ways of doing things. For example, if  we have the quarter system, it immediately give rise to equity because if you see a minimum of 30% of women  in any position ,whether elective or appointed, you will see a minimum of 10%  for  person with disabilities and 15% for  youth,” she said.

She reiterated that the GEWE policy is a good step towards the achievement of gender parity in the country.

Aside from being cemented with several domestic laws, Sierra Leone is a signatory to several international treaties, including the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women,  General Recommendations of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, UN General Assembly, Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women, Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa, and the Millennium Development goals (2005-2015), which among others call for gender equality and the empowerment of women.

According to Dr.Taqi, one of the challenges over the years in the achievement of parity  are that most of the country’s laws have become obsolete, but still remain in force, a situation she said serves as a disadvantage to women across the country.

“The laws that we have now have become obsolete .At the time then, they might have been okay and convenient under the circumstances they were made. But as the landscape changes, as things move on, and as new challenges involves, so you found out that a lot of these laws now put women in a  disadvantage position. Even the languages of the said laws are not good for women. The British from whom we inherited those laws have forgotten about them. You can see the kind of system wherein the judiciary is firm,” she said.

On the international treaties signed by Sierra Leone, she said the issue has been government refusal to domesticate and implement them, coupled with the failure to pay certain subscriptions to the international bodies.

“Since we gained independence, Sierra Leone has signed several treaties but has failed to domesticate many. We still have our bad and obsolete laws that we should review. Sometimes, even the fantastic laws have difficulties in terms of implementation,” she said.

She however stated that over the years a lot of progress has been made but that challenges still remain.

“We haven’t got the statistics to get Sierra Leone where we want it to be as of now, but progress has been made. And it is going to be a continuous fight for this right because it actually a right, not a privilege or accord. It is the right of women to be part of people who make decisions as leaders. There has been a lot of awareness over the years not just for men to acknowledge that women can be part of the system that make decisions, but also for young girls and all our women to acknowledge that there is a potential that they can be part of any activity,”.

She stated that based on her organisation’s activities over the years: “Women have realised that they can no longer be on the outsides or within but to be part of most of the circle that make decisions that will steer the country as to where we want it to be. You now have a few role models around who would be leaders, whether in a political space or community space that young women and men would look up to as examples. So, it a process and we would see more and more women and girls having interest to be part of the circle. There have been more women having the confidence and gaining the knowledge to be able to function as leaders.”

She called on the government to consider recommendations in the Constitutional Review Committee’s (CRC) report on gender, stating government should be consistent in ensuring that women are equally represented in the political governance of the country.

“What we need to see is a visual, stable and consistent effort by government to ensure parity. There must be concrete evidence to show commitment.”

She reminded President Julius Maada Bio about the promise he made during the 2018 political campaign-to place women in the centre-stage of his New Direction agenda.

The campaign to disseminate different instruments on women’s peace and security, capture and showcase women’s contribution to governance and peacebuilding was implemented by MRCG and its constituent members (WIMSAL and IRN) with support from UNDP.

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