By Jariatu S. Bangura
Female Members of the Sierra Leone Parliament have called on all political parties to consider giving symbols to more women as their participation in politics produces tangible gains for democracy, including greater responsiveness to citizens’ needs, increased cooperation across party and ethnic lines, and more sustainable peace.
The under-representation of women constitutes a serious democratic deficit, which undermines the legitimacy of the contemporary democratic ideal. Parity democracy and the promotion of women in decision-making positions are therefore important areas of action for the country.
The current Sierra Leone Parliament is male dominated, consisting about 86% men. There are 19 female MPs of which the Sierra Leone people’s party (SLPP) has 8, the All people’s congress (APC) 7, Coalition for Change (C4C) 1, Independent 1 and Paramount Chiefs 2.
In an exclusive interview, two of the female MPs shared experience with this medium on their journey into the male dominated legislative house.
Hon. Alice J. Kumabeh is from Bonthe district, representing Constituency 092 under the ruling Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP). Hon. Kumabeh’s political life came to her over night as nobody dares talk about politics closer to her back then. According her, she one day just thought of being fit to be in the political arena, so from then she started working towards it.
Hon. Kumabeh first attempted to become MP in 2012 was unsuccessful, but remained closer to her party’s functions. In 2012-2013, she served as SLPP Constituency Chairperson for two terms. In 2017, she contested again for the seat and eventually won the party symbol for the 2018 election, which she won.
It has not been an easy task to get the symbol as she contested with six other men and one woman with a lot of intimidation from men. She was verbally abused but endured to the end, she said, adding “So with all the abuse, I never listen to any of them, my focus was to win the seat at all cost and come to Parliament which I succeeded in doing at the end of the day”.
She said since 2018 to date, her experience in parliament has not been a bad one but only that people were expecting much more from them as if they were the doctors, nurses, parent and lot more.
She said she doesn’t know if that has been the theme of the past for those MPs that have been be in Parliament before, but that it was like the constituents depend on them to bring development to the people.
She said she always tell her people that the roles of MPs are to make laws, represent the people and conduct oversights, but noted that with the little she has at the end of it all, she will have to do something tangible for her people.
She said although some of her colleagues campaigned on the platform of bringing development to their people once they won the parliamentary seat, but that she made the difference.
She said even though she didn’t make promises, her constituents expect her to do much in terms of development, noting that the district councils should be the one to bring development and not the MPs.
Hon. Kumabeh said they have realized that there was a small number of women in politics especially in parliament, but that they were trying as best as they could to provide better representation as women.
She encourages other women to take the front seat should they want to be recognized in politics, adding that they should always make themselves available for party activities, make sure they are seen and their presence be felt.
“I am calling on all women to come in front always and make themselves available always. Don’t wait until you want something tangible and then come out, you will not have it. As a woman in politics, I would want to see many women in politics come to parliament in elective positions. I noticed that a lot of women are afraid to show up in politics,” she said.
She said with a limited number of women in politics, the country will not progress as men always give away, while women take whatever they have to their homes.
“I would want to come back if am given the opportunity again and again. Political parties should give party symbols to women and also women should hold the society they all belong with high esteem even without party symbols for future opportunity,” she noted.
Independent female Member of Parliament, Hon. Emilia Loloh Tongi of Constituency 001, Kailahun District, has been on record as the first female MP to have won in her constituency as independent candidate. She said the feat made her felt like the strongest, capable and powerful among other candidates.
She described her life in parliament as beautiful and that she has learnt a lot in terms of debate and can speak with utmost confidence anywhere outside parliament.
Hon. Loloh Tongi said for more women to be in politics, political parties have that sole right and responsibility; stating that even if a number of good laws are passed for women participation, political parties will have to first agree to act and implement the said laws.
She said the Gender Bill has already been in the hands of parliament and undergoing scrutiny and that they were expecting a positive one for more women participation in politics.
She said for women to be in politics, they should put on tick skin and move on till they succeed and make history.
She encouraged women to come onboard and contest with men despite the challenges.
”Let the young girls that have just graduated get themselves involve in politics or else it would not be easy for us older women in the political field. I was SLPP; I am an SLPP and will always be SLPP. I came as an Independent MP because my party failed to give me the party symbol and they have regretted their action,” she said.
“I have changed the smile of women back in that constituency. If I have the power, I would recommend for 60% to 90% of women to be in parliament and you will see the changes,” she said.