SIERRA LEONE – On June 26, 2018, the Women Shadow Parliament was launched at the Miatta Conference Center in Freetown, Sierra Leone. The Women Shadow Parliament is a new pressure group that is supported by the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality. The Women Shadow Parliament of Sierra Leone hopes to advance women’s rights, empowerment and societal involvement in Sierra Leone. Its theme is to “harness and develop the capacity to strengthen women’s participation in national politics and public service.”
This group is a new measure being taken by Sierra Leone to increase the influence of women on its politics, due to the fact that its number of female political leaders had recently decreased. In the nation’s March 2018 elections, a total of 132 seats were electable in the House. However, only 17 women were elected to Parliament, a 30 percent decline from the previous year’s elections.
Thus, the Women Shadow Parliament was formed as a way of bringing women’s issues into Parliament and ensuring that women’s ideas and needs are voiced and considered in politics. Women in Sierra Leone make up 60 percent of the nation’s farmers and means of agricultural production. Therefore, one of the main goals of the organization is to pay close attention to rural women in Sierra Leone, as they have a large knowledge base of the nation’s economic needs.
This parliament will also function as a way for young women in Sierra Leone to train in politics and public service. This way, not only will the parliament work towards ensuring that women’s voices all over the country are heard in political conversations, but they will also be empowering the next generation of women with the tools, knowledge and capabilities to maintain as well as grow their political presence.
For more information on the history and current conditions of women’s rights in Sierra Leone, The Borgen Project reached out to Dr. Shimelis Gulema, professor of Africana studies and political science at Stony Brook University in Long Island, New York. Gulema’s scholarly areas of focus are on modern and contemporary African migration, urbanization, governance and development.
The Borgen Project: One of the goals of the Women Shadow Parliament is to increase women’s involvement in politics and society in Sierra Leone. How has women’s involvement in these areas changed over time in Sierra Leone?
Shimelis Gulema: Women in Sierra Leone, as in the rest of Africa, have seen a growing recognition of their contribution to society. Their role in the economy, in peacemaking and in politics has been growing. This is part of a general shift in the continent and largely rooted in the spread and consolidation of democracy and the empowerment of women and the youth. They vote, hold leadership positions, lead political parties, especially those in the opposition; lead businesses and are active in civil society organizations.
TBP: One of the reasons that the Women Shadow Parliament was implemented was because only 17 women were elected to the House in Sierra Leone out of 132 electable seats during the 2018 elections. In what ways do you see the Women Shadow Parliament inciting change for women in politics and for other women who wish to enter the political field?
SG: Although there is a noticeable improvement in the way society views women’s role and contributions, there still remain many structural and cultural impediments to the realization of their full potential or agency […] The Women Shadow Parliament can help […] by creating a space for group conversation and discussion of issues of concern to women and the larger society, providing training to women in political organizing and mobilizing, crafting political programs and policies and making public speeches. It can advise elected women politicians on how to present women’s issues and help make decisions on their behalf; it can and should create alliances with similar women’s organizations in and outside government to present a strong and collective voice, empower women politically and economically and promote gender equity.
TBP: What do you see to be the future of women’s societal empowerment in Sierra Leone and similar African countries?
SG: I do see a bright future regarding women’s societal empowerment in Sierra Leone and other African countries […] Women are making their presence felt in almost all sectors of life […] They own and run businesses, create independent and reliable sources of income, are increasingly represented in civil society but also political organizations, have formed important pro-women, pro-gender equality organizations and movements and occupy positions in government.
African governments […] have realized that to empower women is in the best interest of their respective countries. A quota system that reserves at least 30 percent of Parliament seats for women is significant and has contributed to the rise of women’s representation. Rwanda, with the highest number of women in Parliament, is a good example. The international community can help to empower women and hasten the road towards gender equity. Helping expand women’s access to basic services (health, education, clean water), offering skills training and finances to develop sustainable livelihoods, educating and training women in political organizing […] and campaigning are very important.
Although the Women Shadow Parliament is new to Sierra Leone as of now, it appears that women’s rights throughout the African continent are undergoing a large-scale change that will hopefully only progress further towards a full installment of women’s rights and gender equality.
– Theresa Marino