Deep in the valleys of Sierra Leone, a sea of yellow is demanding change. The Yellow Ribbon Campaign became increasingly politically influential with the solidarity of Sierra Leone women and became a force for change that could no longer be ignored.
The campaign includes civil society organizations and women’s empowerment advocates, with support from the Irish NGO Trócaire, is the driving force behind a new government bill to increase women’s representation in public parliaments and local councils.
In Sierra Leone, with a population of almost 8 million, only 19 of the local politicians are women and only 13 at the national level. But efforts to increase these numbers are rapidly underway.
The new Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment Bill developed by the Department of Gender and Child Affairs is calling for 30% of parliamentary seats and cabinet positions to be held by women in the West African state.
It also aims to improve women’s access to finance, increase job placement and link government spending to improved gender equality.
The bill would be monumental for Sierra Leone women, who are routinely discriminated against and are at risk of gender-based violence. Sierra Leone is ranked 182 out of 189 countries in the 2020 United Nations Gender Development Index.
With funding from Irish Aid, Trócaire led the way in ensuring the drafting and passage of legislation to empower women and girls in Sierra Leone.
Irishwoman Ellen Donnelly, program director of Trócaire in Sierra Leone, says that the foreign development agency has been working for a number of years to support female candidates in elections.
“At Trócaire, we have worked tirelessly with our civil society partner organizations to assist the government in Sierra Leone in developing a women’s empowerment policy and drafting the Women’s Empowerment Bill. gender equality women.
“Invoice has passed the first phase in parliament but there are two more stages for it to go through before it is passed.
“Our ambition is for the bill to be passed this year, since 2023 is the election year in Sierra Leone, we will prefer to be in a position to support female candidates in the next election cycle.
“Through local partners, we have also developed a handbook to guide female candidates through the electoral process.”
In addition to drafting and supporting the bill, Trócaire also participates in advocacy and awareness campaigns.
This includes running newscasts on the radio and traveling around the country to consult men and women, especially in rural areas, to hear their feedback and recommendations. them about the bill.
“With the help of local partners, we engaged with rural women to ensure that they could become supporters of the bill and allow them to use their voice and influence. to engage with MPs on what the bill means for them and why their representatives should vote for it,” she said.
“Women living in rural areas are very concerned about the bill and demanding change for themselves and their local communities.”
Mariatu Kargbo, Secretary of the Port Loko Women’s Network, said she was supporting the bill “so that women can be heard in the decision-making process and contribute to the development of Sierra Leone”.
“I want to stand with our father, husband, brother and son to show them that we can too,” said Ms. Kargbo.
Susan B Koroma, president of Bombali County Women’s Farmers Network, echoed this opinion, saying the bill “would allow women to lead and be in charge of our lives and be elected representatives to participate in national development”.
Ms Donnelly said the movement often raises questions that need to be addressed as they reproduce harmful gender norms.
“We often get questions from journalists asking whose seats these women will take because men have held these seats for many years and there is often a fear that women will not be able to fill these positions. this mind.
“Our response has always been that each election cycle is a new cycle and there are no men in seats. Each time you are elected, you are only elected for a period of time.
“We are not stripping anyone of their seats, but in reality, women represent 52 percent of the people in Sierra Leone, so they deserve representation in national and local legislatures,” he said. .
“So really men are taking up a space that they never took and they need to take a step back.
“Over time, we hope that this legislation, if enacted, will lead to tangible change and positive outcomes for women.
“One thing is for sure, the women of Sierra Leone are a political force that cannot be ignored anymore.”
Catherine Devine is a communications officer with Trócaire
https://www.independent.ie/world-news/africa/with-trocaires-help-the-women-of-sierra-leone-are-proving-they-are-a-political-force-not-to-be-ignored-41421237.html With Trócaire’s help, the women of Sierra Leone are proving to be a political force not to be missed.