By Ishmael Dumbuya
Talking Drum Studio and partners have yesterday, March 28, held a National Public Policy Dialogue on the project titled strengthening the Role of Women for Inclusive Governance and a Peaceful Society at the New Brookfield’s Hotel, Jomo Kenyatta Road, Brookfield’s Freetown.
In her keynote address, a representative of the Minister of Planning and Economic Development, Madam Balu Kamara stated the government’s commitment in upholding and strengthening women’s representation and empowerment in the country by enacting the Gender Equality and Women’s Act.
“The Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment Act (GEWE) is a monumental advancement for gender equality in Sierra Leone, a country ranked 181 out of 191 countries in the United Nations Development Program’s Gender Inequality Index. The law enshrines improvements to women’s access to finance, employment opportunities, equal pay, maternity leave, and–critically–political representation. GEWE establishes a 30 percent quota for women’s participation in government for both appointed positions, including cabinet, ministry, and ambassador roles, and elected positions, such as parliamentary and local council seats. Currently, women represent just 12 percent of parliamentary seats and four of 32 cabinet positions. The GEWE quota will go into effect ahead of Sierra Leone’s upcoming presidential, parliamentary, mayoral, and local council elections on June 23, 2023,” Madam Balu highlighted.
She went on to state that according to recent census survey, there are more women (over 50%) in the country than men, yet like most African countries, men dominate and control the economic, political, and social life of the country. She added that it was as a result of that that President Bio enacted the GEWE Act.
She further stated that she looked forward to a more vibrant and diverse parliament with greater numbers of women and women’s voices; urging all political parties to go beyond the legal minimum of the number of women when they compile their proportional representation lists ahead of the elections in June this year.
In her submission, the Ambassador of Ireland to Sierra Leone, Claire Buckley expressed optimism that the dialogue will lead to fruitful results. She added that they discussed positive results of their work on gender sensitive budgeting across five districts, namely Port Loko, Kambia, Kenema, Karene and Moyamba.
She noted that the Irish Embassy and government will continue to render their unflinching support to the Talking Drum Studio, noting that they were impressed with how women’s participation in local budget and Public Financial Management.
She went on to explain that yesterday’s dialogue was important in two ways. Firstly, it was a demonstration of their shared commitments to women participation in inclusive democratic processes and institutions. Secondly, it provides another opportunity to deepen those conversations that happened in a similar space.
“As you may be aware, this dialogue has always been a product of the project implementation, it is based on the evidence gathered and lessons learnt from the various communities.” she highlighted
In her closing remarks, she stated that there have been improvements in the gender sensitive budgeting across the five districts, noting that from 29.33% in 2021 to 35.91% in 2022. She added that there are challenges in the two new districts (Moyamba and Karene).
She rounded off by admonishing all stake holders at community, ward, district and national levels.
Alpha Kamara, the National Coordinator, Talking Drum Studio indicated that strengthening the role of women project is a women-led project that seek to invigorate the role of women in promoting peace and local level accountability.
He added that the project is implemented in 7 of the 16 administrative districts in Sierra Leone. He went on to disclose that the Talking Drum Studio have covered nearly half of the country. He indicated that despite the challenges encountered, the Project achieved the following, over 13,203 direct project participants reached, 850 women in 30 chiefdoms’ across the 7 districts have strengthened capacity and are leading social cohesion and accountable activities within their communities, 12 women led CSO’s are leading and influencing change in their communities, 360 young girls known as Mentees are taking up leadership roles in their communities and schools.
The founder and former president for the 50/50 Organization, Madam Majeks Walker threw a lot of light on the GEWE Act. She stated that the GEWE Act does not fully represent the needs of women and it is tightfisted in its provisions, as it doesn’t explain the benefits of women in the newly enacted Act.
She mentioned that her organization will not cease to pursue, promote and advocate for women in all spheres of influence, as that is their key mandate at 50/50.
The dialogue attracted CSO’s NGO’s, military personnel and members of the Fourth Estate.