By Kongbap Sumner
According to Statistics Sierra Leone (SSL)’s Housing and Population Census 2015, women account for about 51% of the country’s population. The economic, social, cultural and political status of women in society was identified by the census as major determinants of the poverty status of a country.
Despite several promises made by previous and current governments to grant the 30% quota in elective and appointment positions for women, they have failed to pass into law the bill, which could have created the framework for increased female participation in politics.
Even under normal circumstances globally, especially in Sierra Leone, women are the most vulnerable, but the situation becomes worse during outbreaks like Ebola and the COVID-19.
Some of the major factors for low or non-female representation in politics is finance, fear of violence and intimidation, and the COVID-19 pandemic has worsened the situation as some Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) that used to support and capacitate women politicians like the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and UN Women have either ceased, scaled-down or restructured their programs to fighting the COVID-19 pandemic.
Hon. Veronica Kadie Sesay of the Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP) disclosed that although they are still receiving their monthly salaries from the Government Consolidated Fund, other emoluments have ceased or drastically reduced, thus a severe reduction in their income.
The president of Women’s Forum, the national umbrella organization for women in Sierra Leone, Mrs Sallay Adams, noted that to increase women’s chances in politics, the “government should amend the 1991 constitution to increase their chances to participate in politics, make it mandatory for all political parties to enact gender policies that will specifically indicate a threshold for women in executive positions, local councils and parliamentary positions, review and enact the minimum 30% quota Bill which creates the chance for women to hold 30% of positions in elective and appointed positions as well as provide training and funding for female candidates for public elections.”
She continued that women are demanding that political parties and presidential candidates commit to allocating at least 40% of the local council and parliamentary nominations to them as they strongly believe that increased women’s representation in governance would help change the face of politics and improve the quality of representation in parliament and communities, revealing that women currently occupy only 11 % of parliamentary seats although they make up over half of the population of Sierra Leone.
According to Dr Fatu Taqi of the 50/50 Group, women’s inclusion (80 points) into the political process scored the second-highest point in a nationwide survey conducted before the 2018 election and she informed that in Bo District, for example, the 15% allocation of party MP and local council tickets to women was the third most priority for the district, while for Bombali and Kambia Districts it was the second.
She further revealed that in Kenema District, the 40% party nomination of women was the topmost priority while for Moyamba District it was 50%, the highest nationwide.
Moyamba District has historically been the hub for female leadership and voted overwhelmingly in favour of giving 40% parliamentary and local council seats to women. The same for Port Loko and Tonkolili Districts, with Freetown West and Western Rural District, voted resoundingly (second) for increased representation of women in governance.
The Executive Director of Democracy and Development Associates- Sierra Leone (DADA-SL), Mr Foday Sesay, pointed out that the pandemic mitigated the activities of women politicians to financially empower themselves, stressing that if they have the financial power during pandemics they would continue to do their normal duties of serving their people during crisis periods, asserting that their responsibilities increased during crisis periods as their constituents expect them to distribute/donate food and non-food items, medicines and basic items like buckets, blankets and roofing sheets to them.
Councilor Abu Bakarr Kargbo (APC) of Ward 410, Constituency 117, Freetown East and of the Freetown City Council, appealed to the Political Parties Registration Commission (PPRC) to support political parties to develop policies on the inclusion of women with resources and power to monitor and enforce compliance as well as reduce the candidature fees for women vying for symbols in their parties and paying fees for them.
He also called on the government to “appoint women to at least 30% of cabinet and civil service positions provide funding/training for female candidates in public elections as well as increase the number of women in leadership and the decision-making process.”
Note :This story was produced with support from Journalists for Human Rights (JHR), though it’s Mobilizing Media in the Fight Against COVID-19 in partnership with the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists.