Sierra Leone Telegraph: 22 January 2023:
Last Thursday, President Julius Maada Bio signed a new Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment Bill 2022, known also as the GEWE Act 2022, that is seeking to open up the country’s political space and establish a level playing field for women in politics.
Political parties are now required to ensure that 30% of their candidates for parliamentary and local council elections are women.
Of the 146 MPs in the country’s parliament, only 12.3% are currently women, and advocates of women’s rights are hoping that this new law will encourage more women to enter politics.
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.
Speaking at the signing ceremony, President Bio said: “For me, women’s economic empowerment and protection are not political rhetoric. Empowering women is essential to the health and social development of families, communities, and countries. Women can reach their full potential when they live safe, fulfilled, productive lives.
“When I became President, I proclaimed that gender is firmly on my New Direction Agenda. The future of Sierra Leone is female; we must do all it takes to facilitate the timely, full, and unconditional inclusion of women in our national life, governance, and development,” he said.
President Bio is hoping that with the new gender empowerment law, barriers to parliamentary representation will be removed.
He said he is 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.
The president said his government has taken on deep-rooted and complex challenges confronting women in the country, and has introduced progressive policies and measures, reviewing existing laws and proposing new legislations to promote gender equality.
He told the well-attended event, which attracted people from the private sector, gender activists, women’s leaders and girls as well as development partners and representatives from the diplomatic community, that as a government they want to work in partnership to create more jobs for women, establish business cultures that promote diversity and inclusion and invest in training programmes tailored to create more job opportunities for women.
“Can we do more? Yes, and this Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment Act, which I am signing into law today, will now address the gender imbalances in this country comprehensively.
“The key provisions of this law speak to the principles of inclusion, representation, participation, and a more responsive posture on gender. These include at least 30% representation in Cabinet; at least 30% representation in Parliament; at least 30% of all appointments as Ambassadors/High Commissioners; at least 30% of all positions in Local Councils; at least 30% of all jobs in the Civil Service; at least 30% of all jobs in private institutions with 25 and more employees; maternal leave extended from 12 weeks to 14 weeks; and financial inclusion for women.
“Mainstreaming of the gender requirements across all sectoral policies and legal frameworks; gender responsive budgeting; gender units in every Planning Directorate within MDAs; and the creation of a multi-sectoral Gender Steering Committee to oversee the implementation of the GEWE Act,” he said.
President Bio also paid tribute to his late mother, whom he called Yei Amie. “I have often told the story of my humble and selfless mother, Yei Amie Navo Bio, who, upon my father’s passing, bore the burden of raising our family and inculcating in us the work ethic and sense of service I am privileged to have today.
“She and other resilient women in my family formed the foundation upon which I stand. They come from a long history of Sierra Leonean women who have been the foundation of our people and communities as mothers, leaders, warriors, educators and, very crucially, peacemakers,” he said.
He said that there is no path to a democratic, free, stable and prosperous society that does not include women’s central and uninhibited participation, adding that they could not have written the history of Sierra Leon’s democracy without mentioning the role of the brave women who risked and sometimes lost their lives to fight for peace.
“From Queen Nyarroh of Bandasuma (modern-day Bandajuma), a warrior, a leader, a mediator and a peacemaker; to Madam Yoko, one of our most prominent historical leaders and a notable mediator; to the prominent Madam Nenge of Baoma Chiefdom born into a hierarchy of warriors…to Adelaide Casely-Hayford who fought for the rights of women, the preservation of African cultural heritage and formulated a plan for girls’ education over 100 years ago; to Constance Cummings-John, who pushed for vocational education of girls and was the first woman in Africa to join a municipal council in 1938. The list is endless.
“This story is why now that we have a stable and peaceful Sierra Leone, we cannot afford to have women, who make up 52% of our population, not featuring prominently in politics and leadership. Women’s Rights are Human Rights. Women’s rights are not about making women better or stronger?” he asked.
Manager and Head of Office at UN Women in Sierra Leone, Setcheme Jeronime Mongbo said, “Gender has to be a priority on the president’s agenda to be able to gather this VIP crowd. Thank you, Mr. President. Equality means a state of being equal in status, rights, and opportunities”.
She said that while the world is not on track to achieving equality by 2030, she is however certain that the GEWE Act 2022 is shortening the road for Sierra Leone to make huge progress because the government has set a ground-breaking precedent for women’s rights and equality in the region.
Irish Ambassador to Sierra Leone, Claire Buckley, said, “This is evidence of His Excellency, President Julius Maada Bio’s true and passionate commitment to gender equality and women’s rights. Ireland and Sierra Leone are partners with a shared commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals and the gender policy, empowering women and girls, and ending all forms of discrimination and violence against women and girls”.
“Today, we are one step closer to that goal. When women and men do not have equal access to resources or equal opportunities to take part in decision-making, there are direct economic and social costs”.