Sierra Leone: Women still struggling for a safe and enabling environment

By Isaac Unisa Kamara.

The Director of Women Against Violence and Exploitation in Society, Sierra Leone (WAVES-SL), Hannah Yambasu, said on women’s day that women in Sierra Leone are still struggling to be empowered and realize equality.

Speaking during the International Women’s Day to commemorate the event at an interdenominational church gathering, Yambasu said, “We’re not celebrating Women’s Day but commemorating it because, we’re still struggling for a safe and enabling environment that favours our equal participation in leadership and our freedom from SGBV”.

“There still remains a need for the elimination of all forms of violence against women and their protection from the traditionally disenfranchised female population; particularly in rural settings which is key to societal development.”

She said the struggle for Gender Equity and Women’s Empowerment should not only be a concept but to be applied. Hence, the reason why her organization together with like-minded partners and the Ministry of Gender and Children’s Affairs are restless until they see a safe and enabling environment for women and girls.

The Director of Rehabilitation and Development Agency Sierra Leone (RADA/SL), Dr. Augustine G. Robinson, reechoed the need for women to be empowered.

“This is a season women should be in leadership,” he noted.

He also referenced Biblical and practical examples of women who were given leadership positions, noting that it is the perfect will of God for women to take leadership positions not only in church but also in every facet of the society.

MORE THAN A WOMAN: Strengthening Women’s Participation in Politics and Governance

By Ahmed Sahid Nasralla (De Monk)

Women and youth make up more than 70 percent of the population, yet they are the least represented in the governance of the country

In Sierra Leone women and youth make up more than 70 percent of the population and are the main labour force in the economy, yet they are the most impoverished and least represented in the governance of the country. Of the 132 Members of Parliament elected in the 2018 General Elections, only 16 (12 percent) are women. In 2018 only 2 out of the 14 appointed traditional leaders in Parliament are women.

Women’s participation in governance at community, district and national levels is limited to handful of positions. Moreover, a decade after the passage of the Four Gender Acts, which were intended to free women and girls from the bondage of traditional beliefs and practices, Female Genital Mutilation continues unabated.

Existing international laws and policies advocate for gender equity in decision-making and political participation, as outlined in documents such as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), and UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security. More recently, the UN General Assembly in a Joint Declaration on “Advancing Women’s Political Participation” declared, “women’s political participation is fundamental to democracy and essential to the achievement of sustainable development and peace”. However, Sierra Leone is a long way from achieving the standards laid out in international codes, with structural discrimination against women entrenched across all levels and institutions of society. This inhibits the participation of women in public life and decision-making at all levels.

The EU Observation Report findings (pages 28-29) indicate that women were clearly disadvantaged in these elections. None of the major parties had a woman as a presidential candidate or running mate. There were two female presidential candidates, however they only gained 0.5% and 0.2% in the first round. There were four female running mates in a field of 16. The number of female parliamentary candidates was 100 out of 795 (12.6%). While the total number of female MPs slightly increased to 18; taking into account the increase in the overall size of the parliament, this election marked no progress in the percentage of female MPs at 12.3%. Sierra Leone is ranked 144 out of 192 in the world for the lowest percentages of elected female politicians. There were 73 women elected out of the 489 local councilors (15%). There was a palpable lack of will among male politicians to address the reasons for low female nominations.

It is against this background that the ‘More than a Woman’ project was launched in the Eastern Region of Sierra Leone, where women empowerment seems to be gaining some grounds. The project, which is funded by Irish Aid and implemented by SEND Sierra Leone, seeks to strengthen women’s participation in politics and governance.

According to the Country Director of SEND Sierra Leone, Joseph Ayamga, the project would ensure women speak with collective voice, knowledge, capacity on gender and accountability in governance and politics at district and regional levels, empower women economically through resource mobilization and utilization, and hold annual Eastern Regional Women in Governance meetings for women to learn and share experiences.

Speaking at the launching ceremony in April 2019, the Eastern Region Social Welfare representative noted that the region is on the verge of making a remarkable progress if they continued with the trend, citing the Beijing declaration and other Conventions that speak against all forms of discrimination against women by the United Nations standards.

The Deputy Chairman Kono District Council, Tamba John Trye, assured that the perennial issue of traditional beliefs, which has been a hindrance to women’s participation in governance, was waning as more women are now coming up for elective and other high positions in that part of the country.

“The only obstacle we have now is women contesting for the Paramount Chieftaincy title,” he mentioned, and called on SEND Sierra Leone and its partners to sensitize and educate traditional leaders to see the need to allow women their right to contest for the Paramount Chief title in the district.

PC Emmanuel Ganawa, who represented Paramount Chiefs at the event, said Kailahun district had always been promoting women through the help of SEND SL. He recalled how women have been participating in Paramount Chieftaincy elections in Kailahun for many years.

However, PC Ganawa said it is unfortunate that women have not been supporting their colleagues when they aspire for elective positions, including the chieftaincy.

According to the Governance Advisor-Irish Aid, Josephus Ellie, Ireland and Sierra Leone are partners in the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda, particularly Goal 15 and 5.5 of the SDGs, which aims to promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development.

“It also provides access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions and ensure that women make full and effective participation in equal opportunities in leadership and all levels in decision making and public life respectively,” said Josephus, adding that the statistics on participation in governance are very worrisome and women participation in governance remains very low in Sierra Leone.

He revealed that the embassy of Ireland has concluded its mission strategic plan for the next five years with four pillars: gender, nutrition and food security, security and education.

“Empowering citizens, particularly women, to engage with inclusive and accountable democratic institutional processes is key to the governance and human rights priorities of the Government of Ireland’s engagements over the next five years,” said Josephus.

He described their engagement with SEND Sierra Leone, which started in 2017 ahead of the elections, as cordial and professional and producing positive results, which are very visible today.

Also speaking at the launching, SEND Sierra Leone Board Chair Madam Kadie Jumu called on SEND and the women in Kono, Kailahun and Kenema to be the pacesetters by showing the other women what they are capable of doing. She expressed thanks and appreciation to Irish Aid for the support provided for the project launch.

Furthermore, Kadie called on development partners to help them scale up the project to other regions across the country within the next couple of years for them to have more women representation in elective and governance positions.

One of the main recommendations during the launch is the need for a mechanism, be it legislative or otherwise, to increase women in governance; particularly in Parliament and Local Councils.

The Case of Sierra Leone Women And Equality And Fair Treatment In Sierra Leone.

By Mariama Dumbuya



Mariama Dumbuya: women deserve better

It was while I was attending the funeral service of the late Madam Abator Davidson at Christ Church during that I thought of writing this piece. She was a dedicated Sierra Leonean woman who spent her life, advocating and campaigning for equality and the empowerment of Sierra Leonean women and girls in the interest of progress, peace democracy and equal rights.

The status quo of Sierra Leonean women in Sierra Leone has constantly been part of my quiet moments.

However, that very afternoon the finality of the plight of Sierra Leonean women hit me with the realisation that we have got a long way to go (if at all possible) in achieving equality for women in Sierra Leone.

This is how it unfolded that afternoon at Christ Church culminating to this…

The church music, address/sermon by the female preacher was on point and apt. The service was very beautiful and uplifting. It was full of human rights activists paying their last respect to a sister in the struggle. As the service progressed, I reflected about Sierra Leonean women and the equality and discrimination they have to live with.

I reflected on the late Madam Abator and the numerous charitable non-profit women’s rights organisations that were in that Church paying their last respect to her. My attention was drawn to the inscription design and print on the 50/50 group ashobi fabric worn by the lady sitting in front of me during the service.  The message on the said ashobi caught my attention; it depicts a picture of man and woman holding hands. The words underneath the picture reads “Equal Representation”

Other printed words were: “A woman’s place is in Governance”

I took a picture in deep reflection, pondering in deep thought that the late woman, as co-founder of the 50/50 group and 2nd President did not live to see the equality, envisaged by the 50/50 Group of Sierra Leone that  she spent the better part of her life fighting for. I then became sad because sitting there at that funeral service of the late woman, I cannot honestly in my opinion say that Sierra Leonean women have achieved that equality.

The struggle simply continues.


A woman’s place is in Governance

The Late woman has played her part and her life’s curtain has fallen ending her role on life’s stage. May her soul rest in perfect peace. She played her part well.

It saddens me further that she laid there in her coffin soon to buried leaving the fact that despite all that she and other valiant Sierra Leonean women and men have fought for, yet  this year we see the present Government’s most recent appointment of heads of parastatals, agencies and security sector devoid of female representation!!!

It was a shock to see that out of 18 appointments NOT A SINGLE FEMALE WAS APPOINTED!!

The only way I can help fathom such exclusion of women is to just assume that: to err is human…and the new Government on a “new direction” is on a “learning curve”.

Since that day I continue to reflect and try to convince myself that there’s some form of equality for women in Sierra Leone. We have over the years had women occupy various key positions in governance yet it has never been enough. Needless to say, let the past remain in the past .The present defines the future so what we see now is what defines our future, the future of Sierra Leonean women.

The election Manifesto of the present SLPP led Government, under the rubic “Human Development” and further articulated in clauses 3.3.2 Empowering our Women states:

“In the New Direction, we will promote gender equality, equity, empowerment and the protection of the rights of women… Our specific actions will be to …increase the chances of women in politics through… making it mandatory for all political parties to enact gender policies that will specify among other things a threshold for women in executive positions and 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 appointive positions”

In the light of such declaration of intention, it is to say the least disheartening to see from this Government appointments devoid of female representation. Come on, the proof of the pudding is in the eating.  In memory of the late woman and all those men and women who have strived and suffered in Sierra Leone dead and/or alive for female emancipation and equality and fairness for Sierra Leonean women such appointments excluding women should never be repeated!!!!

Those women and men from the past and present who have in diverse ways suffered humiliation, abuse, disgrace and assault in pursuing equality for all and continue to suffer such .

It will be beneficial for our dear Sierra Leone if Sierra Leoneans, and in particular, our present Government consider the non-discriminatory constitutional provisions, International instruments, conventions and protocols in making all future appointments in every sector of Governance!.

Let there be equality for all so that “one day” soon we will finally be heading successfully towards the “new direction” because it is only together that we will make the difference.   Finally, there are in abundance, credible trustworthy Sierra Leonean women, even within the SLPP, who can serve faithfully, diligently and can successfully deliver on any given mandate set in any appointment.

I feel uplifted, when as I was finishing this short article, I heard the good news of the appointment of the first ever female Attorney General (if duly sworn).This is a singular significant step in the right direction. There’s a beacon of hope that “one day” will surely come when Sierra Leone women will be treated equally as Sierra Leonean men.

We have many credible, honest, hardworking Sierra Leonean women who can deliver and produce positive results just like our dear men. Sierra Leonean women make up over 51 percent of the population so women should and must be part of decision making and governance in every sector in Sierra Leone.

We need more women in governance and decision making.


  • The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW)

“PART I in Article I of CEDAW defines discrimination against women as follows;

“For the purposes of the present Convention, the term “discrimination against women” shall mean any distinction, exclusion or restriction made on the basis of sex which has the effect or purpose of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by women, irrespective of their marital status, on a basis of equality of men and women, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field.”

Further, part II of Article 7  inter alia stipulates that;

” States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in the political and public life of the country and, in particular, shall ensure to women, on equal terms with men, the right:

(b) To participate in the formulation of government policy and the implementation thereof and to hold public office and perform all public functions at all levels of government;

(c) To participate in non-governmental organizations and associations concerned with the public and political life of the country.”

Furthermore, article 8 ensures that;

“States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to ensure to women, on equal terms with men and without any discrimination, the opportunity to represent their Governments at the international level and to participate in the work of international organizations”

Sierra Leone signed CEDAW on the 21st day of September 1988 and ratified same on the 11th day of November 1988

➡Our 1991 Constitution Act No 6 even with it lapses awaiting referendum(not forgetting the  infamous discriminatory section  27 (4) )does not support exclusion of women in decision making and governance.

Section 8 (2) (a) provides that in furtherance of social order;

“ every citizen shall have equality of rights, obligations, and opportunities before the law, and the state shall ensure that every citizen has an equal right and access to all opportunities and benefits based on merit:”

Section 8 (3) provides that the state shall direct it policy towards ensuring;

(a)Every citizen, without discrimination on any grounds whatsoever, shall have the opportunity for securing adequate means of livelihood as well as adequate opportunities to secure suitable employment”

➡The Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948 which provides” a common standard of achievement for all people’s and all nations”.

Article 1 deals with the right to equality.

Article 2 deals with freedom from discrimination.

Article 21 deals with inter alia the right to participate in government.

➡The Maputo Protocol is also known as the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa.

The Protocol guarantees rights to women including the right to take part in the political process, to social and political equality with men.

Article 1 deals with elimination of discrimination against women.

Article 9 deals with right to participation in political and decision making process.

Our Parliament ratified the Maputo protocol on the 2nd day of July 2015 and signed same the 11th day of July 2003.

Oxford Dictionary of Law 6th edition defines ratification as;

“The approval of a treaty, usually by the head of state (or by the head of state and legislature). This takes place when documents of ratification are either exchanged or deposited with the named depositary. Normally a treaty states expressly whether it will bind a party as soon as it is signed by that party’s representative or whether it requires ratification. The Vienna Convention on Treaties (1969) provides that when a treaty does not specify whether or not ratification is required, reference will be made to the parties intention…”


Mariama Dumbuya is a Barrister & Solicitor, past president of L.A.W.Y.E.R.S, and member & legal adviser of the 50/50 Group.