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Tuesday, February 7, 2023

Women Take Gender Empowerment Bill to the Grassroots

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Women Take Gender Empowerment Bill to the Grassroots

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The Women’s Forum Sierra Leone (WF-SL) has completed two sensitisation programs at Susan’s Bay and Brookfields Carwash Center respectively as part of the one-month project titled, ‘Taking the Gender Empowerment Bill to the Informal Sector.

The objectives of the engagements are to take the Gender Empowerment Bill to the informal sector so as to get meaningful input that reflects the views of all Sierra Leoneans. Furthermore, it is essential that the Bill is understood so that female aspirants and Members of Parliament can lobby for its acceptance.

During the various sensitizations, some of the issues highlighted in the Bill to the people included the 30% reserve seats for female candidates contesting Local Council elections as well as reserve seats in a District or constituency after a minimum of two terms. In reserve seats, a female candidate is eligible for elections for not more than two terms. Where a political party fails to comply, the National Electoral Commission shall reject the party’s list.

Other pertinent issues in the Bill are women’s appointment to decision-making positions and structures so as to achieve a minimum of 30% representation in all areas/levels of governance nationwide, financial inclusion/women’s access to finance and gender-mainstreaming of Government Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs).

Participants were also informed that gender imbalance in a global challenge but that in Sierra Leone, according to statistics, women’s political representation is abysmal informing that the number of female Members of Parliament, Councilors, High Commissioners/Ambassadors, Government Boards, Committees and Commissions, Boards of Government owned institutions, Boards of Independent Government Commissions, the Defense Council among others is nothing to write home about, an indication that women’s political participation is poor and that there is gross imbalances, discrimination and inequalities making women in the sociological parlance misfits.

According to the various speakers, it is to do away with this social malaise and injustice that the Gender Empowerment Bill 2021 has come to reduce or minimize for which they commended the Ministry of Gender and Children’s Affairs and His Excellency the President for launching the Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment Policy in December 2021.

When policy documents and Bills geared towards women’s development are not popularized at national level, challenges are bound to happen and women’s voice will be marginalized. In Sierra Leone, because Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment, policy and Bills are not popularized, it has the following negative effects on the female population.

These include low turnout in inclusive participation of women in national development, low women’s participation in democratic activities, lack of understanding/no active women’s voice and exploitation of women.

To address these negative problems, WF-SL has called for the popularization of all Gender and Women’s Empowerment related documents to ensure active participation/inclusion of women at all levels (National, District and Chiefdom) by engaging state actors and local communities on a massive public awareness and popularization of the Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment Bill through media engagements, consultations, dialogues, debates and stakeholders’ engagement forums.      

It must be noted that in Sierra Leone, there are a number of documents governing institutions that represent and advocate on behalf of women. However, these women empowerment documents give every woman a voice and clearly states their identified roles and responsibilities as Sierra Leonean women.

Unfortunately, these policy documents now drafted into Bills are not popularized and women do not actively understand their roles and responsibilities.

The Gender Empowerment Bill addresses major challenges for gender equality in three thematic areas ranging from granting women 30% of all elective and appointive political positions to including affirmative action (scholarship for girls) in education.

The Minister of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs is responsible for gender and social welfare matters in addition to supervising the Children’s Commission that supports the policy implementation and connects government and child-friendly organizations.

WF-SL, a network of women’s organizations nationwide has identified challenges affecting the popularization of the Bill geared towards women’s development in Sierra Leone. Inspite of the gaps in the Bill which women have been advocating for, it is necessary for the Bill to be open up to as many women and men for their inputs and feedbacks on the content so as to be able to get their elected leaders in parliament to make informed decisions in voting for the Bill.

Furthermore, consulting and leaving out the content of the Bill to the informal sector of society, a challenge is made for them to reach out to their respective representatives (Members of Parliament to eventually vote the Bill into law.)

According to the President of the WF-SL, Mrs. Sallay Adams, some of the challenges are that women do not understand their roles and responsibilities, violence against women and exploitation, poor women’s participation and inclusiveness, lack of women’s knowledge on policy documents affecting them, low participation in policy engagements and the decision-making process,  lack of information on policy documents and lack of women’s vocal participation (CBOs, CSOs, NGOs and Government) advocating for policy popularization.

Some of the objectives and outcome of the project are community outreach to market women, slum communities, Ataya Bases, Carwash Centers, meetings with local authorities like Tribal Heads, Mammy Queens and other local leaders as well as youth groups.

Participants interviewed commended Women’s Forum-Sierra Leone for the sensitization that has enabled them to understand the rudiments of the Gender Empowerment Bill, other policies and documents relating to women and even the country and hoped the engagements would continue. 

They also called on other development partners and government to emulate the sterling example of Women’s Forum to sensitize the masses on issues of national interest and development.

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