FEATURE: The journey to achieving gender equality, women’s empowerment in Sierra Leone

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By Alfred Koroma & Alhaji Haruna Sani

After decades of a marathon campaign, activists recently convinced government to pass a landmark law, Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment Act.

The Act provides for several reforms to enhance women’s rights and representation in public service, including providing women 30 percent quota for elective and appointive public officer positions, equal entitlement to employees training and improvement of their access to finance.

The law follows the enactment of the Sexual Offences Act, all geared towards the protection of women. There is also the enthusiasm shown by the First Lady in the popular ‘Hands Off Our Girls Campaign’. All of these indicate a significant progress for women protection and empowerment in a male dominant society as Sierra Leone, where women have long been left behind.

But issues of gender imbalance remains prevalent in the country and campaigners are concerned about the implementation of the policies seeking to protect and empower women.

There are still gaps, but the fact that they have brought a new document that looks at how women should be empowered in politics and at grassroots level. It’s kudos to the government. But we are concerned about its implementation.

According to the World Bank, the proportion of women with access to formal employment has increased by 3.3% globally in the past decade. This is a testament to the hard work and dedication of women who have fought for their rights and demanded to be seen and heard.

However, we cannot ignore the fact that women still face immense challenges. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the disproportionate impact of crises on women, with women being more likely to lose their jobs, take on caregiving responsibilities, and experience gender-based violence.

Chelcy Alma Heroe is the CEO and Founder of the Informal Workers Organisation.She said the organization looks at people in the informal economy, people in the middle man power, people who are uneducated or some are school dropouts.

“People who work but are not getting the benefit provided in the labour law are the people our organization raises voice for. Previously, we were domestic workers’ organization. Women for a while have been left behind. For a while, policies have not been protecting us,” she told this medium.

Chelcy said as an organization, they are also commemorating the International Women’s Day, but are commemorating it by looking at the people in the Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) sector.

“We go out to educate them on the GEWE Act and other sectors that are male dominated,” she said.

 In the aspect of gender roles, she said women are afraid to take those jobs.

“We don’t have more women in carpentry, mason, plumbing; more women to drive trucks. We as organization view it that women should take those jobs.  We work to help more women take up the male dominated jobs,” she said.

She said there are still gaps, but the fact that they have brought a document out that looks at how women should be empowered from politics to the grassroots level.

“It’s kudos to the government, but we are concerned about the implementation,” she said, adding that “as we commemorate the international women’s day, we should educate the women down there because there facilities for them, like access to finance aspect. Women struggle to get access to finance because of so many criteria. The GEWE Act is very good but the implementation is also very key”.

She said as they observe the International Women’s Day, they expect more education for women.

She charged that gender based violence is so much, citing the removal of the traders at Abacha Street without creating an alternative sources of livelihood for them.

“If you cannot do it to people in the formal sector, don’t do it to those in the informal sector.  You throw people out of the street saying they don’t want to abide by the law? Abiding by the law is about engagement, education and finding alternative measures. If you ask me to leave here you should have created an alternative space,” she emphasised.

She explained that many women are in prison because of the August 10 saga, adding that many women are there because they lack education which was why they took to the street against the law.

The UN theme for this year’s International Women’s Day is “Digit ALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality”.  This theme is aligned with the priority theme for the upcoming 67th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW-67), “Innovation and technological change, and education in the digital age for achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls”.  

Less than 50% of working-age women are in the labour market, a figure that has barely changed over the last quarter of a century, according to a new UN report launched in 2022.

Unpaid domestic and care work falls disproportionately on women, restraining their economic potential as the COVID-19 pandemic additionally affects women’s jobs and livelihoods, the report warns.

 Amidst the challenges in achieving gender equality and women empowerment, there is hope. Women have proven to be capable of overcoming adversity and creating positive change.

There is definitely a need to for Sierra Leonean women to  celebrate the progress  made so far, but it is also necessary show more commitment and to do more.

Continuity to advocate for policies that promote gender equality, including equal pay, paid parental leave, and affordable childcare should be paramount to both government and activists.

Women should be supported to champion women-led initiatives and organizations that are working towards a more just and equitable world, thereby creating a Sierra Leone where every woman has the opportunity to fulfill her potential and live a life free from discrimination and oppression.

It is time to stand in solidarity with women everywhere and work towards a brighter, more inclusive future for all in Sierra Leone and beyond.

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