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.

Boosting Oil Palm Farming in Sierra Leone – Teachers and Army officers rise to the challenge

Farming in Daru, a town in the Kailahun district of Sierra Leone has long been the preserve of the uneducated. But thanks to some teachers and army officers in the community, the status quo is changing. Engaged in oil palm cultivation, the two groups are determined to shape the narrative and to help boost oil palm production in the country.

Solidaridad through its Sustainable West Africa Palm Oil Programme (SWAPP), which seeks to contribute to the transformation of the oil palm sector in West Africa, is supporting the teachers and the army officers with technical expertise on best management practices, as well as improved seedlings for the establishment of oil palm farms.

So far, the programme has supported the two groups with 950 improved oil palm seedlings for planting and provided technical assistance to enhance the optimal cultivation of the commodity. 

10-acre land and these have been intercropped with rice to help them to be self-sufficient in food. 

“The army has the manpower and structures to make this project successful. The soldiers here have also been trained as farmers and thus working on farms is now like any other routine, with daily supervision,” says Major Peter Brima Conteh, second in command of the One Infantry Battalion at Moa Barracks. “The first phase of the project would benefit residents of the barracks, but the goal is for the Armed Forces Agricultural Unit to take over the ownership of the farm. We are confident that this would lead to a food self-sufficient army, reduce the burden on the national consolidated fund and create space for other important developments he says.   

Fourteen teachers ofthe Kailahun District Education Committee have established a five-acre oil palm farm with 300 improved oil palm seedlings they received from Solidaridad. 

Momson Garmoh, a teacher at Kailahun District Committee Primary School and a beneficiary of the programme, explains that the support will not only benefit him but also the school on whose land the oil palm is being cultivated.

“Palm oil is used largely in our vicinity and forms a key component of the meals prepared for pupils in my school. Once palm oil production begins, it would help reduce the cost of providing nutritious meals to the children under the school feeding programme. This will surely increase enrolment and retention of pupils in our school,” says Momson.

He indicates that proceeds from the sale of fresh fruit bunches would be used to rehabilitate the school’s building, construct a water facility, and support teachers’ welfare.

The Sustainable West Africa Palm Oil Programme, funded by the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Ghana, as part of its strategies to support more smallholder oil palm farmers in the district encouraged the formation of farmer groups, of which the teachers and army officers belong.  This makes it easier for beneficiaries to receive support from the programme.

“Teachers and army officers are highly regarded and respected in their communities. Having them engaged in the oil palm cultivation would motivate other farmers to also go into oil palm cultivation. The involvement of the teachers is a special boost for the youth to recognize the value of agriculture in the country,” says John Maada Sinah, the programme manager for SWAPP at Solidaridad in Sierra Leone.

The second phase of the Sustainable West Africa Palm Oil Programme is aimed at scaling up sustainable oil palm production and enhancing the efficiency of mills to process fresh fruit bunches into crude palm oil. Besides Sierra Leone, Solidaridad implements the programme in Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire, Nigeria and Liberia.

The programme is facilitating the establishment and operations of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to provide farm management services, promote investment in efficient palm oil processing mills and build the capacity of farmers to adopt best management practices on their respective farms. So far, the programme has benefitted 5,225 farmers in 178 communities. 

Empowering rural women through Small Business Development (SBD

By Ahmed Sahid Nasralla

In Gorahun, the chiefdom headquarters of Tunkia Chiefdom, Baindu Sannoh has been a petty trader for about 10 years. She started with ‘Osusu’ (group savings) and continually invested in agriculture, growing groundnuts and other cash crops.

After every harvest she would sell some and keep some for the home. With the proceeds from sale she would travel to Kenema town to buy some basic food stuffs that were scarce in her community. She traded in soap, garri, sugar, rice, initially by cups and now by bags.

Then Baindu benefitted from a Small Business Development (SBD) initiative under the LANN+ project implemented by SEND Sierra Leone with funding from  the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) through Welthungerhilfe (WHH). She added that to increase her stock.

She further joined the Village Savings and Loan Association Scheme (VSLA), a component under the LANN+ project.

Baindu has 3 children; two females and a boy (10). From her savings she is able to finance the education of her children and has built two latrines for her apartment, a family home.

Impact of Corona

During the Corona pandemic, Baindu has experienced drastic drop in sales.

“The restrictions, though good to prevent us from contracting the virus, are affecting our businesses,” she said. “There’s no more ‘Darwei’ (periodic markets); we just sell at home to neighbours and the community.”

During this period also, she (and her colleagues) are not making any savings with the VSLA because business activities has been hampered and they are not making profit.

Meanwhile, every morning she would put water in the veronica bucket donated to the community and ensured that anybody who passed by from the farm was encouraged to wash their hands.


Baindu is looking forward to the second loan under the project but everything has stopped because of the Corona pandemic.

The 35 year-old hopes Coronavirus will go away and things will return to normal; get further loan and invest more in her business to make money.

50/50 Group Sierra Leone Commends President Bio for his Position on Women

Members of Sierra Leone’s leading women advocacy, 50/50 Group, have paid a courtesy call on His Excellency President Dr Julius Maada Bio to praise his position on women and girls’ empowerment and his policies to protect them.

The non-partisan organisation, advocating and campaigning for increased political participation and equal representation of women in decision-making processes and initiatives at all levels in Sierra Leone, also called on the President to get more women to participate in governance.

Founder and Global President of the Group, Dr Nemata Majeks-Walker, said that they were appreciative of President Bio, especially given his passion for women in the country, adding that they had also done some good work by training and empowering women in readiness for national responsibilities.

She expressed hope that the government would continue to bring more women in governance. Outgone President of the Group, Dr Fatou Taqi, said they were grateful that State House had made time to engage them, adding that they were aware of the work of the President in terms of national inclusion.

The women’s leader also said they were aware that the government was
getting more women to participate, reviewing laws in order to protect women and girls.

Dr Taqi professed their support and singled out the efforts of the First Lady with the “Hands Off Our Girls” initiative, which has as a common goal to ensure that rape, teenage pregnancy and all forms of abuse against women and girls are completely eliminated.

“We acknowledge that women are in the majority in the country and we see the role women play in various aspects in the country. We are aware of the appointments you have made and we call for more of such. We are partners in development and we will like to work with your government to see the Sierra Leone that we all envisage,” she said.

President Bio remarked that he was pleased to meet the women’s group to continue the ongoing dialogue. He said that the fundamental issue he had started to address was to provide equal opportunities for girls in schools, saying that when girls were educated they would be able to take up leadership positions in the country.

He said that with the free quality education and the introduction of the STEM programme, which provided access to university education for women, there would be a critical mass of informed and educated women. He mentioned that the government was committed to the 30% quota for
women’s representation and added that they would look at the proposals in the Constitutional Review Process.

“We have shown commitment in terms of the many things we are doing for the girl child. Teenage pregnancy, early marriage and rape are critical issues that we all must pay attention to. We have to pay attention to the next generation of women and we are making a national appeal to save
their lives and provide a better future for them. I want us to work together to change the story of our women and make it sustainable,” he said.

Exclusive interview with Lucy Gondor: “There’s still a long way to go for the ordinary women of Sierra Leone”

By Ahmed Sahid Nasralla (De Monk)

Lucy Gondor is the current President of the Kailahun Women in Governance Network (KWiGN), comprising 106 women groups with a total membership of over 5400 women in Kailahun District.

LUCY F. GONDOR: President of KWiGN

The wife of Paramount Chief Cyril Foray Gondor of Upper Bambara Chiefdom, Lucy rose from a house wife and teacher to become a change maker in her community in particular and Kailahun District in General. Her vision is to work for the socio-economic, political and educational empowerment of Sierra Leonean women.

I caught up with her last week in Ngolahun village, Peje Bongre chiefdom, where her organization held a meeting to present a female candidate to the people for the position of Member of Parliament for Constituency 010 come 2023 elections.

How did you become President of this network (KWiGN)?

After the rebel war, I was working with a woman group formed by the International Rescue Committee (IRC). It was called Nyahabagbay in Mende (meaning strong women). It was a solidarity group of seven sub-groups of women involved in skills enterprise such as gara dying, soap making, tailoring, weaving, gari processing, bread baking, adult literacy, etc.

The IRC built a literacy center and I was a tutor and chairperson for the center and for all the seven groups. The groups consisted of about 60 women in total. That was around 2004-2005.

In 2008, an NGO by the name of SEND Sierra Leone came to Kailahun District. They did a survey of groups headed by women in the 14 chiefdoms in the district and my group was among those consulted.

In the first phase the NGO organised a consultative meeting of all women groups, traditional leaders and other community stakeholders including religious leaders and teachers in the district. Their message was about empowering rural women, equal representation of women and men in political parties, promoting good governance and equal access to the resources of the country.

The second phase of their intervention was the formal launching of the Power to Women project. They invited all political parties, Police, Army, traditional leaders, women groups, religious leaders, youth, etc. From there we started KWiGN and I was later elected in 2009 as the District Treasurer. Because of my exemplary performance, devotion, commitment and active participation, my colleagues voted me as President of KWiGN in 2013.

As President of KWiGN, what will you consider to be your key achievement/s so far?

I can proudly say that the status of women in Kailahun District has improved a lot, thanks to our collective effort as women and other stakeholders, and the invaluable support of SEND Sierra Leone and their partners Christian Aid and Irish Aid.

As President I embarked on advocacy, lobbying, sensitization, training and workshops. Before now, there were no leadership positions for women in the district because of age-old traditions. But because of the inclusion of the traditional leaders from the inception of our programs we are changing mindsets and they are now willingly supporting women to hold important positions in the politics and administration of the district. For example, in the 2012 national elections we succeeded in electing 12 women as councilors and one female Hon. Member of Parliament. Though she’s now late, we ensured another woman replaced her.

After the 2018 elections we have 6 councilors and two MPs in Kailahun District. In the entire Eastern Region, we have 26 women councilors and four MPs.

We continue to advocate and lobby for women to be included in chiefdom committees as well, and play leading roles in the implementation of development projects. Even in the district council we had about six female councilors as chairpersons of various committees including health, education and waste management.

In a bye-election following the death of a sitting MP in Luawa town in 2015/2016, we lobbied the two main political parties and they gave us two women candidates; this has never happened in the politics of Sierra Leone. And the elections went on peacefully.

Most importantly, we have facilitated the establishment of the network in Kenema and Kono districts.

Apart from politics, what other aspects of women’s life has KWiGN positively influenced?

We are not only involved in politics, but we know change comes easily when there’s the political will. So politics is the vehicle we are using. We are also involved in health; women monitoring the free health care program in all chiefdoms in Kailahun. During the Ebola outbreak, our women volunteered to be contact tracers, they sensitized grassroots women on the Dos and Don’ts and the bye-laws established by the Paramount Chiefs. We continue to advocate for the development of community health posts in our Wards to ensure rural women have access to essential healthcare.

We have also tackled the sensitive traditional issue of Female Genital Mutilation and we now have a minimum age of consent at 18 years.

We are also in livelihood support. Through KWiGN women’s socio-economic status has improved greatly. The micro finance scheme introduced by SEND Sierra Leone has helped to empower women economically. Women now have access to resources to improve their lives, educate their children, provide food and pay for the family’s health. Women now own property and other assets.

We also give voice to women’s issues through our regular radio programs. Women talk about burning issues affecting them and the girl child; they talk freely about gender based violence, early marriage, teenage pregnancy and other issues.

You seem to have reached the climax of your aspirations for women?

I am afraid no; far from that. We have to congratulate ourselves and our partners for what we have achieved collectively so far. But there’s still a long way to go for the ordinary women of this country, not only in Kailahun district. Sierra Leone is still a male dominated society, not in terms of the numbers but the mindset. Despite the enactment of the four gender Acts offering protection for mainly women, it is still difficult for most women to have access to material resources, social, educational and political opportunities in their respective communities. There are still some communities clinging on to those archaic customs and traditions that have so long marginalized women.

Gender based violence, especially rape, is a huge challenge in Kailahun and other districts as well. Issues of child marriage, education of the girl child…These are all rolling issues that we will continue to deal with.

We humbly called for equal opportunities for women in all aspects of life- social, economic, educational, political and access to material resources. These are things we will not stop advocating for.

Where do you see the women of Kailahun in particular and Sierra Leone in general in the next five to 10 years?

Firstly, we want to see more women joining the political parties, paying their dues, participating actively in party activities and occupying decision making positions and committees within their respective parties. We want to see more women parliamentarians; more women ministers; and more women holding senior positions in local and national governance. We want women to preside over the development of national policies and laws and then all other sectors will benefit.

We want to strengthen the relationship between women and men towards the development of the nation. We want to see women and men supporting one another towards a common goal.

We are not working in isolation; we are in partnership with a lot of influential women groups across the country including Fifty-Fifty Group, MARWOPNET, APPWA and AMNet.

Breaking entrenched barriers to become MP far away from home


By Ahmed Sahid Nasralla (De Monk)

In the suburbs of Kailahun District, Eastern Sierra Leone, people of all ages and titles, including from the surrounding villages, trooped in small groups to the community barray (hall) at Ngolahun village, Peje Bongre chiefdom, for what seemed to be a very important meeting.


That was Constituency 010 and the meeting was about politics. The Kailahun Women In Governance Network (KWiGN), with support from Irish Aid and SEND Sierra Leone, was behind the organization of the meeting to present a woman candidate to the people for the position of Member of Parliament for the constituency come 2023 national elections.

The woman, Zainab Kama Braima, actually contested for the same position in the 2018 national elections as an Independent candidate after she was denied symbol under her Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP).


“We fought for a woman (Zainab) to become Member of Parliament for this constituency but we did not succeed. Instead, the SLPP gave the symbol to a man and you (the people) voted for him. We respect your decision. However, our candidate did not lose and that’s why we are presenting her again. We are not waiting until 2023; the work starts now,” said Theresa Satta Garber, Secretary General of KWiGN, while explaining the purpose of the meeting. KWiGN is a consortium of 106 women groups with a membership of over 5400 women across the 14 chiefdoms of Kailahun district.


Zainab’s candidacy in the 2018 elections attempted to break very strong traditional, tribal and regional barriers that have shackled the politics of Sierra Leone for decades.

Firstly, she’s the first female in the history of Peje Bongre chiefdom to contest for the MP position; the men considered that as an affront. Secondly, she’s not a native of the chiefdom and doesn’t speak their language and, thirdly, she hailed from the Northern Region of Sierra Leone. The people considered her as a stranger; despite being the wife of their son.


“The odds were literally against me,” recalled Zainab. “I was insulted and humiliated. I faced utter discrimination as if I was not a Sierra Leonean. But I stood firm to prove a point. I feel no wounds and bear no grudges. I think the mistake they (the people) made was to allow their son to marry a Loko woman (laughed). And I am proud to say I am a Loko.”


Inspired by this experience, Zainab’s determination is to ensure her footprints are all over the chiefdom to which she will proudly point come 2013.

She has constructed a bridge in Jui community while a community health centre in Foindu Mawei and a Barry in Fowaya are under construction. She is also supporting eight community health centres in both Peje Bongre and Penguia chiefdoms with essential drugs and other medical items: in Ngolahun, Pujehun, Mamboma, Grima, Gbahama, Woroma, Sandaru and Manowa.

In addition, Fowaya and Jui communities have come together to do a self-help project on swamp rice cultivation with support from Zainab.


Mid this week, Zainab and her husband visited all communities in order to ascertain the status and progress of the various projects and engaged with the people to jointly plan the next phase of the work after the raining season.

“This is our community; whether we win or lose we have an obligation to give back to help develop these places and ensure a better life for our people,” said the husband Keikura Braima, an international civil servant who has been very supportive of his wife’s ambition.

SLPP patron

The couple have been married for 30 years now and have three children, two girls and a boy. During the 2018 elections, Keikura said he traveled about 25 times from abroad to attend and support campaign activities of her wife back home.

“I actually presented her officially to my people (and my party the SLPP), and kindly requested them to support her candidacy,” explained Keikura.

Describing himself as a Patron of the SLPP and up-to-date with his membership dues (together with his wife) Keikura claimed the awarding of the party’s symbol for constituency 010 was unfair.

 “We were disappointed, but that will not change our membership. We are SLPP today, tomorrow and forever. My wife decided to go independent to prove a point,” he said.


Adding to Zainab’s hopes of becoming the next MP of Constituency 010 is the Paramount Chief of Peje Bongre chiefdom, Pejehunkpoh Baion, who has been impressed with her engagement with the people after the 2018 elections.

“As a development oriented leader I am more than happy with Zainab’s development interventions in my chiefdom,” said PC Baion. “Yes she did not get the party’s symbol in 2018 and she faced a lot of challenges when she decided to contest as an independent, but I want to assure her that we’ll not allow any unfair means of awarding symbols in my chiefdom come 2023.”

He added: “Going forward, I think we should encourage all political parties to always engage with the chiefs, as custodians and the people’s representatives, before awarding symbols to potential candidates. We know our people better than anyone else.”


For Zainab, the 2018 elections was an eye-opener.

“We will not have understood the deep rooted issues if we had not come in,” she noted. “Some things need to change. They should not remain the same. Women don’t have power in this constituency. It’s a taboo for a woman to aspire for power here. We need to change that.”

A private entrepreneur in the construction sector, Zainab was born in Kalangba, Makeni, Bombali District, Northern Sierra Leone.

“I have a vision and a program for this constituency. I will not abandon that because I didn’t win an election,” she said.

‘My mother told me to dare.’ Inspiring stories from high-level African Development Bank women’s summit

Nafissa Hamidou Abdoulaye has been praised far and wide for her ground-breaking work in agriculture, but securing financing has been an uphill battle. That was until now.

The African Development Bank has decided to jump in and support Abdoulaye, who has for the past five years self-financed her animal feed company Salma, which employs 10 people.

Abdoulaye’s story inspired African Development Bank president Akinwumi Adesina after she spoke at the high-level regional summit of the Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative (We-Fi) held in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire, on April 17, 2019.

The summit was the first regional gathering of the newly formed We-Fi, and was called to discuss how women-owned SMEs can overcome barriers to financing.

The event, co-hosted by the African Development Bank, the World Bank and the Islamic Development Bank, heard many accounts of how women had struggled to make headway as entrepreneurs.

Abdoulaye spoke about how she had been motivated by her mother, a housewife who had raised her and her four siblings as a single parent.  “She told me to dare, don’t just be a mother in the household. Be a woman who in just a few years will be known,” Abdoulaye said.

In 2014, she founded Salma after noticing the vast quantities amounts of animal feed being imported into her country, Niger. Salma used local ingredients to create her feed.

Since then, Abdoulaye has won plaudits for her venture, including being named one of the Francophonie 35 people under 35 to watch in West Africa.

Patricia Zoundi, the founder of Quick Cash and Canaanland  also shared her story at the We-Fi summit.. Quick Cash is a mobile service that allows people in rural areas to transfer money without an internet connection. Canaanland offers a range of services to rural people, such as training and helping them gain access to markets.

Shortly after the two women spoke, Adesina took to the stage and announced that the Bank would invest in Zandou and Abdoulaye’s businesses.

Adesina said Africa’s economy could only thrive once women were brought on board.

“When women win, Africa wins. Truth be told, women run Africa,” Adesina told delegates.

Other major announcements at the We-Fi Summit included a US $2 million facility for 300 cocoa cooperatives in Cote d’Ivoire, by Mars, Nestle, Hershey and other multinationals, along with USAID and the World Cocoa Foundation. A further 500 associations will also be given access to the formal financing market.

The announcement was made by Ivanka Trump, senior advisor to US President Donald Trump, who had earlier visited a successful cocoa farm run by an association made up women outside Abidjan.

“This was a perfect example of women championing women, women supporting women … This is what happens when women work together, but you need the role models, because, unless you see it, you can’t believe it’s possible,” Trump said.

World Bank president Kristalina Georgieva said her institution had developed innovative tools to help women overcome barriers to financing.

“With gender equality, the wealth of our planet could be $164 trillion greater. So we owe it to everyone to remove the barriers that women face,” she said.

Bandar Hajjar, president of the Islamic Development Bank, said We-Fi was an opportunity for his bank to increase its focus on women-led SMEs under its Business Resilience Assistance for the Value-Adding Enterprises (BRAVE) programme.

“Through the grant provided under We-Fi, the Islamic Development Bank targets the specific barriers women enterprises are facing to enhance their resilience in fragile contexts as potential engines for innovation, employment and sustainable inclusive growth,” Hajjar said.

We-Fi is a US$345 million fund that seeks to promote financing for women. It is a collaborative partnership among 14 governments, eight implementing partners, multilateral development banks, and other public and private sector stakeholders.