By Jariatu S. Bangura
Women across Sierra Leone have through a communique submitted to the Speaker of Parliament called for the creation of a Women’s Fund to enhance effective political participation and to also advance the interests and concerns of women for the development of the country.
Lawyer Yasim Jusu Sheriff presented the communique on behalf of women, who participated in the National Women’s Conference held in Freetown on 16th &17th March, 2022.
She informed parliament that Sierra Leonean women from all the sixteen (16) districts met at the 50/50 Group Auditorium, Tower Hill under the auspices of the 50/50 Group of Sierra Leone, with support from the European Union, and in collaboration with Action Aid International of Sierra Leone, the Institute for Legal Research & Advocacy for Justice, Campaign for Good Governance, Trocaire, Search for Common Ground and MARWOPNET.
She said the meeting was to educate women, reflect, strategize and to be in solidarity with one another on the theme: “Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment (GEWE) in an age of Constitutional Change’’
She stated that women declared that “the year 2022 is our time. The women of Sierra Leone deserve more and better than we have had from this nation in the last sixty-two years; we have been kept waiting for too long for our inalienable human rights and equality to be recognized, protected and promoted by the constitution and laws of Sierra Leone and now we say Enough is Enough.”
She said while they acknowledge and appreciate that, after thirty years of advocacy, mobilisation, and struggles by women, a GEWE Bill is finally before parliament for enactment.
“We, however, demand a minimum 33% quota for women at all levels of leadership and governance, including parliament, local councils, political parties and paramount chieftaincy to be inserted as an entrenched clause within the Constitution of Sierra Leone,” she reiterated.
She said they further demanded the recognition and promotion of the capabilities of women with disabilities and their being empowered to participate in every aspect of life in Sierra Leone including within leadership
“We are calling for additional, realistic and urgent legislative amendments of the current GEWE Bill to fulfil the 13 areas highlighted in the GEWE Policy 2020 with priority on the following: educational training, particularly adult education for women, women’s centred health care services; financial and economic access, equitable access to land and robust efforts to eradicate GBV,” she said.
She said while they were cautiously opened to the White Paper recommendation for the adoption of the Proportional Representation (PR) system for the next elections, they demanded that any PR system be made responsive to women’s needs and “our local context and must guarantee and result in meeting the minimum 33% quota, which can possibly be realised by having a zipper system of One woman and One man candidate lists”.
She further states that they were concerned about the proposal that calls for 50%+1 to win presidential election as “we believe it entrenches political polarization, deepens division and puts our electoral processes & institutions under pressure; PR can also increase the risk of corruption and malpractice and discourages consensus building and cross party dialogue.”
“We note that the Government White Paper proposes that Sierra Leoneans’ human rights in the Constitution be limited by ‘national security’ and we call for a re-consideration of this proposal as women need more, not less, expansive rights. We call for the speedy enactment of economic corruption offences to protect women’s access to credit and finance,” she said.
Lawyer Jusu Sheriff said women further demanded that positions at every levels in political parties go to women and that swift action be taken to substitute the mainstreaming of women in political parties in place of the current sidelining of women into political party wings.
They also called for careful attention to be paid to consideration & alleviation of the concerns and anxieties that male MPs have around the GEWE Bill and the 33% Quota; and efforts be made to secure their whole hearted support and input for attaining the all- important equality provisions.
She said the women of Sierra Leone called for a law that will enable citizens to hold all those in power and authority accountable for gender lapses, and further demanded the immediate establishment of a Women’s Commission that is established & protected by the constitution and in GEWE law.
“We further demand that the Political parties must be reformed to ensure that they monitor and enforce the selection and election of capable women as MPs and local councilors who will be effective in representing their constituents. We call for Women and girls to be supported to transform the political, social and economic status quo of this country through training, education and skills-building.