By Betty Milton in Brussels
Since his election to office in 2018, President Julius Maada Bio has championed women’s issues from all fronts, especially the empowerment of girls believing that should Sierra Leone prosper, they are to play an integral part of the process.
Gender empowerment programmes are increasingly becoming a cornerstone of anti-poverty efforts in many developing countries. It could be noted that recent interest in empowering women in developing countries, culminating in the Cairo Population conference of 1994 and the Women’s conference of 1995 in China, has led international agencies and feminist organizations alike to rally behind the concept of women’s empowerment.
The need to “empower” women in developing countries to reduce gender inequalities, thereby improving socioeconomic conditions of women and subsiding population growth is increasingly emerging.
Against that backdrop, the SLPP’s Manifesto highlighted a number of steps to address the critical issues facing women. It sought to:
• Increase the chances of women in politics through:
– Amending the 1991 Constitution of Sierra Leone to increase the chances of women participating in politics
– Reviewing and enacting the minimum 30% Quota Bill which creates the chance for women to hold 30% of positions in elective office and appointment positions.
– Providing training and funding for female candidates for public elections.
As Her Excellency the First Lady, Madam Fatima Bio, stated the GEWE is not only about President Bio fulfilling his manifest promise rather he believes that women deserve their rightful place in society.
With his mantra “TOK N DO” coupled with his untiring zeal to develop the human capital in Sierra Leone, President Bio has today wasted no time to assent the Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment (GEWE) Act 2022, making it a law and laying a firm foundation for gender parity.
The GEWE Bill seeks to achieve the improvement of women’s access to political leadership and decision-making at all levels and encourage sectorial ministries to ensure the integration of gender-oriented goals into fiscal policies, processes and programmes and meaningful resource allocation focusing on women’s needs.
In 2020, President Bio launched a gender policy designed to serve as a reference to address gender issues and inequalities in Sierra Leone.
Before 2018, though women constitute more than 50% of the country’s population, the percentage did not reflect their involvement in key areas such as literacy, economic empowerment and decision-making and political participation and leadership as against their male counterparts.
Even before the GEWE bill, President Bio increased the number of women in executive positions in government, more female Ministers in cabinet and in the diplomatic services, and preference recruitment of women into the forces.
It is only President Bio that can give women a 30% quota in public positions; 30% in private companies, 14 weeks of maternity leave, financial inclusion for women, gender mainstreaming across the board and gender-responsive budgeting.
The Bill seeks to address the gender imbalances by making provision for increased elective positions for women; to provide for the promotion of gender equality in employment and training, to provide for the implementation of gender mainstreaming and budgeting, providing for financial institutions to prescribe procedures for the improvement of women’s access to finance and to provide for other related matters.
The Bill went through proper scrutiny, together with a series of amendments and public consultations with development partners and civil society organizations, amongst others, before it was passed into law.
In Parliament, Hon Catherine Zaianab Tarawallie, an opposition representative said, “I am overwhelmed, I’m so happy; this shows the importance of the Act, as it lays the basis for the empowerment of women. Now, Sierra Leonean women have the opportunity to be given the right to safe seats in all elections.”
While giving his assent to the Law this afternoon, His Excellency Dr Julius Maada Bio proudly highlighted the significant role women have been playing in the country over the years, in particular, the 1995 “Peace Before Elections” demonstrations, and their role in the reconciliation drive post-civil war.
Women’s rights are human rights. Freedom has come. How can we afford to not let 52% of our population be part of what we want to do and yet we want to achieve?
Thrilled at this great achievement and the level of political will displayed by the President, Manty Tarawallie, Honourable Minister of Gender noted, “It is a new dawn for women in Sierra Leone because the change we want to see as women is here.
It is real and tangible, it is not lip service; it is a measurable change, and accountable change in an inclusive and comprehensive way that would move women, both rural and urban from insignificant, meaninglessness to acceptance of wealth, substance and value.”
Thank you President Julius Maada Bio