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Sierra Leone

“We are tired of clapping and dancing for men…”

In Sierra Leone, standing for election as a woman means you may face the threat of having your home destroyed. On a recent visit to the country, I met with inspirational women that Trócaire has been working closely with, who have faced down these threats.

In March of this year, these women took the brave step of standing for the 2018 elections in Sierra Leone – most of them for the first time.

Women face poverty, violence and inequality

The women spoke to me about the inspiring journeys they have taken, and the challenges that women face in their communities.

They want to improve the conditions in their community, including alleviating women’s burden of work. This has included calling for wells to be built in their villages so that women would not have to spend hours collecting water. New wells would also mean safer water to drink, and as a result their children would not be as sick so often.

The women spoke to me of their deep concern of the rise of teenage pregnancies in their communities and of the abuse and violence that women face.

They also spoke of the many businesses in the area that women wanted to start. One woman – Councillor Aminata – spoke of how she was able to help some women who needed to access credit, by acting as guarantor in the bank for them.

Women in Sierra Leone are not permitted to own land, and as a result find it very difficult to find enough capital to lift themselves out of poverty.

Growing in confidence in the face of intimidation

Trócaire helps to empower these women by working in local partnership with organisations in Sierra Leone. These local partners include the Association for the well-being of rural Communities and Development (ABC-D), Women’s Forum for Human Rights and Democracy (WOFHRAD) and Campaign for Good Governance (CGG).

Through the support of Trocaire’s partner organisations, these women enhanced their skills in public speaking, campaigning, lobbying and advocacy. Our partners helped them to develop their election manifestos, and supported the women to gain the confidence to put themselves forward to be elected on behalf of their communities.

As we discussed the reasons why these women wanted to stand for election, some of them spoke of the severe intimidation they faced. This included threats that their family homes would be destroyed, or that they would be evicted from their rented accommodation.

They also spoke of the harassment and humiliation they faced in public. One shocking example was when groups of young men emptied wheelbarrows full of excrement at their front doors. Men who stood for election never had to face this form of intimidation.

Staying strong together

As these women told their stories, the camaraderie between them was palpable. This was despite some of them aligning themselves with different political parties. Not all the women I spoke with were successful in their election campaign, but together as a group there was a sense of strength and hope amongst them. Many of those who were unsuccessful are already thinking about their future opportunities.

One young woman told me “we are tired of dancing and clapping for men”. These women are ready to stand up for what they believe in. They are ready to challenge the unequal power structures they witness on a daily basis.

A long road ahead

The women who have been elected have a long road ahead of them. They are likely to have to prove their worth in politics to a much greater extent than their male counterparts.

However, they can continue to support each other and Trocaire’s partner organisations can support them to navigate the political system. If they do this, and continue demanding the needs of their communities, their journey through their political careers will be smoother, despite the challenges.

Alongside their sisters who attempted to stand this time around, they can encourage other women to rise up and demand their rights. Hopefully together with supportive men in their communities they will realise their dream of a stronger, healthier Sierra Leone.

Carol Wrenn is Trócaire’s Women’s Empowerment Advisor

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