“The first time we brought the gender bill to our male colleagues in parliament, they immediately said no. They said they will throw it out,” Veronica Sesay, an SLPP Member of Parliament (MP) says from her office in the House of Parliament in Freetown, Sierra Leone.
“In Parliament, there are 146 MPs, and only 19 of us are women. We knew how important a gender equality act would be to the women of Sierra Leone so we had to keep trying.”
In November 2022, the GEWE Act was passed, stating that 30 percent of candidates for elected positions “shall” be women and 30 percent of presidential appointees “may” be women. Currently, just 13 percent of politicians in parliament are women. Local and national elections are to be held in Sierra Leone in June 2023.
The Act also improved women’s access to finance, extended maternity leave, introduced equal pay and stipulated a 30 percent female quota of staff in private companies with more than 25 employees.
The Act has been hailed by campaigners as “monumental” for the women of Sierra Leone who are routinely discriminated against and at risk of gender-based violence. Sierra Leone was ranked 182nd out of 189 countries on the UN’s 2020 Gender Development Index. One in 20 Sierra Leonean women will die as a result of pregnancy or childbirth, according to the UN.
With funding from Irish Aid, Trócaire and partners (Campaign for Good Governance, Association for the Wellbeing of Rural Communities and Development, Women’s Forum for Human Rights and Democracy, Social Enterprise Development, Network Movement for Justice and Development) have been campaigning for the passing of the GEWE Act for the past four years and have worked closely with the MPs to draft the law.
The organisations also trained women to become empowered and know their political rights and developed an election manifesto to support women who are running for election.