UN country team trains gov’t officials on gender


June 12, 2015 

UN Women, with support from the United Nations Country Team in Sierra Leone, has concluded a three-day orientation on gender for 18 officials from the Sierra Leone government at Eden’s Park, along the Western Area’s Mama Beach on 3 June 2015. The training aimed to produce a grounded crop of gender experts who will integrate, coordinate and harmonize gender equality and women’s empowerment issues across all sectors in the development landscape of Sierra Leone.

The training served as a refresher course for a few of the participants who had their background rooted in gender issues but for the majority, it was an eye opener. “I now know exactly what to do to encourage more women businesses to sign up for micro credit schemes instead of just complaining and blaming them for being unprogressive,” admitted Theresa Williams, the Development Officer at the Ministry of Trade and Industry who happens to manage the portfolio of small and medium enterprise development.

For many of the participants, mostly new recruits at regional and district levels over the last year into the National Gender Machinery, the Ministry of Social Welfare Gender and Children’s Affairs, this was their first formal orientation on gender. “Even though most of us have been working on gender issues, we really haven’t been privileged to have such a technical and hands on orientation on the issues. It’s amazing to discover how the concepts relate to all what we are doing,” says Hannah Lahai, the ministry’s Gender Officer in the Western Rural Area.

The training, which was delivered by the UN Gender Technical Team and the Ministry of Social Welfare Gender and Children’s Affairs, proved to be not only a capacity building exercise, but a brainstorming, experience sharing, problem solving and a team building apparatus for the gender focal points from the various government ministries, department and agencies; some of whom were meeting for the very first time.

Together, they unscaled new resources on the ground in their various districts and created the linkages and networks to help them carry out their duties effectively. As they unconsciously unraveled cultural practices and beliefs that underpinned gender inequality, the group realized how they themselves have sometimes unconsciously contributed to enforcing gender stereotypes. Reflecting on the local context, discussions mainly focused on ways of mainstreaming gender during a humanitarian emergency and particularly in times of crisis such as Ebola.

One major obstacle identified by the Ministry of Gender is the inability of their staff to direct gender affairs nationwide and this, according to the Director of Gender, Charles Vandi, has a lot to do with capacity and confidence building issues.

Meanwhile, the government of Sierra Leone continues to lay strong emphasis and attention on achieving gender equality and women’s empowerment as a rights based principle and as a measure towards sustainable national development and cohesion. Recently they developed a policy to ensure that 30 percent of all government contracts are awarded to women entrepreneurs while 20 percent of minister’s performance contract evaluation is be based on gender responsiveness.

This is a second phase of training that UN Women is conducting with the help of the UN Gender Technical Team.

Participants included senior policy and middle level managers from the Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs and Gender Focal Points from the Ministries of Local Government and Rural Development, Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Agriculture and Food Security, Education, Labour and Social Security, Trade and Industry, and the Family Support Unit of the Sierra Leone Police.

Earlier in April, believing that “iron sharpens iron” an intensive refresher training was run for the UN gender focal points to brush up their skills to be able to tackle the emerging gender inequalities compounded in the wake of the Ebola Virus Disease epidemic.