News / Africa

    Sierra Leone Women Struggle for Political Role

    Opposition presidential candidate Julius Maada Bio of the Sierra Leone People's Party and his running mate Kadi Sesay (r) at SLPP party headquarters in Freetown, Sierra Leone, Nov. 20, 2012.
    Opposition presidential candidate Julius Maada Bio of the Sierra Leone People's Party and his running mate Kadi Sesay (r) at SLPP party headquarters in Freetown, Sierra Leone, Nov. 20, 2012.
    Sierra Leone held its third election since the end of its decade-long civil war on November 17.  The country has moved forward in some ways.  Roads are better and health care is improving, but the status of women, particularly in politics, is improving only slowly in the face of cultural and economic barriers.

    Kadi Sesay is used to firsts.

    She was the first woman to head the English Department at Fourah Bay College in the capital, Freetown.  She was the first woman to head the National Commission for Democracy and Human Rights.  She also was the first woman to be Minister of Development and Economic Planning.

    She aimed to become Sierra Leone's first female vice president when she signed on as the running mate for main opposition candidate Julius Maada Bio in the Nov. 17 election.

    "The only disqualifying clause was that I was a woman and I kept asking people who is going to decide when county will be ready.  Is it the men?  I felt challenges definitely, but as time went on we had a good campaign and think all my male colleagues respected me," said Sesay.

    She says women like her are unfortunately the exception.  She says most women in Sierra Leone, cannot afford to stand for elections and, even if they do, they face discrimination and accusations of having "slept their way to the top."

    The National Election Commission told VOA that just the cost of registering to be a candidate varies depending on the race - presidential, parliamentary or local - but can be as much as $230.

    Though Sesay and her running mate, Julius Maada Bio, did not win this year's election, Sesay says progress is being made.

    "With more women at the top, the more likely younger women will look at older women and want to copy their examples and that is challenge - how do you get more women at the top," she asks.

    Single mother Bonnet Sesay earns about $150 a month as a housekeeper in Freetown.  She says men often overpower women at home and at work and that she hopes that more women in power would mean greater emphasis on issues like health and education.

    "It's going to help people like me.  I have no husband, I have two children, so if we have women in parliament or as vice president they can help us, forward our problems.  Most men here are taking advantage of us," said Bonnet Sesay.

    But activists say not all successful female politicians are interested in helping other women succeed.  

    Nemata Majeks-Walker is the founder of the 50/50 group in Sierra Leone, an organization pushing for women to have a stronger presence in politics.

    She says a small caucus of female parliament members were supposed to lobby for a gender parity bill this year that would set up a 30 percent quota of women in parliament.  The bill was, instead, dismissed in September.

    "They had other interests, other priorities at the time - campaigning, working with their constituents, rather than prioritizing the bill, they were already in parliament.  I feel it is bitter lesson for them because many of them have lost their seats, if they had focused attention on this, that might have helped to give them more places in parliament," said Majeks-Walker.

    The election commission says there was a very small increase of women running in elections this year compared to the last election in 2007.

    Commission spokesman Christopher Jones said Sesay was one of three women running for vice president under various political parties.  And, the number of women running for parliament seats went from 64 from the last election to 67 this year.  But that was still just a fraction of the total 586 parliamentary candidates.

    "Despite some people saying it is insignificant, but I will say is on increase and gradually by time women will get stronger, they will reach the kind of percentage they are seeking for," said Jones.

    Richard Howitt, the chief election observer in Sierra Leone for the European Union, says it was disappointing to see so few women on the ballots.

    "It's laid down in convention of United Nations, covering every country in the world - what we need to see in this country is more education for women, more economic progress for women, which will give them financial means which is important in elections," said Howitt.

    Women in countries like Rwanda, Tanzania and Senegal have dramatically increased their representation thanks to laws requiring that a certain number of parliament seats be reserved for women or that a certain percentage of each party's candidates be women.

    Female activists in Sierra Leone say they will continue to campaign for similar legislation.

    You May Like

    Video Rubio Looks to Surge in New Hampshire

    Republican presidential candidate has moved into second place in several recent surveys and appears to be gaining ground on longtime frontrunner Donald Trump

    UN Calls for Global Ban on Female Genital Mutilation

    Recent UNICEF report finds at least 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone female genital mutilation in 30 countries

    UN Pilots New Peace Approach in CAR

    Approach launched in northern town of Kaga Bandoro, where former combatants of mainly Muslim Seleka armed group and Christian and animist anti-Balaka movement are being paid to do community work

    By the Numbers

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibiti
    X
    Hamada Elsaram
    February 05, 2016 4:30 PM
    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video Former Drug CEO Martin Shkreli Angers US Lawmakers

    A former U.S. pharmaceutical business executive has angered lawmakers by refusing to explain why he raised the price of a life-saving pill by 5,000 percent. Martin Shkreli was removed from a congressional hearing on Thursday after citing his Fifth Amendment right to stay silent. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Super Bowl TV Commercials are Super Business for Advertisers

    The Super Bowl, the championship clash between the two top teams in American Football, is the most-watched sporting event of the year, and advertisers are lining up and paying big bucks to get their commercials on the air. In fact, the TV commercials during the Super Bowl have become one of the most anticipated and popular features of the event. VOA's Brian Allen has a sneak peek of what you can expect to see when the big game goes to commercial break, and the real entertainment begins.
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.
    Video

    Video Microcephaly's Connection to Zika: Guilty Until Proven Innocent

    The Zika virus rarely causes problems for the people who get it, but it seems to be having a devastating impact on babies whose mothers are infected with Zika. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
    Video

    Video Solar Innovation Provides Cheap, Clean Energy to Kenya Residents

    In Kenya, a company called M-Kopa Solar is providing clean energy to more than 300,000 homes across East Africa by allowing customers to "pay-as-you-go" via their cell phones. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from Kangemi, customers pay a small deposit for a solar unit and then pay less than a dollar a day to get clean energy to light up their homes or businesses.
    Video

    Video Stunning Artworks Attract Record Crowds, Thanks to Social Media

    A new exhibit at the oldest art museum in America is shattering attendance records. Thousands of visitors are lining up to see nine giant works of art that have gotten a much-deserved shot of viral marketing. The 150-year-old Smithsonian American Art Museum has never had a response quite like this. VOA's Julie Taboh reports.
    Video

    Video Apprenticeships Put Americans on Path Back to Work

    Trying to get more people into the U.S. workforce, the Obama administration last year announced $175 million in grants towards apprenticeship programs. VOA White House correspondent Aru Pande went inside one training center outside of Washington that has gained national recognition for helping put people on the path to employment.
    Video

    Video New Material May Reduce Concussion Effects

    As the 2016 National Football League season reaches its summit at the Super Bowl this coming Sunday (2/7), scientists are trying to learn how to more effectively protect football players from dangerous and damaging concussions. Researchers at Cardiff and Cambridge Universities say their origami-based material may solve the problem. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Saudi Arabian Women's Sports Chip Away at Stereotypes

    Saudi Arabian female athletes say that sports are on the front line of busting traditions that quash women’s voices, both locally and internationally. In their hometown of Jeddah, a group of basketball players say that by connecting sports to health issues, they are encouraging women and girls to get out of their homes and participate in public life. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.
    Video

    Video A Year Later, Fortunes Mixed for Syrians Forging New Lives in Berlin

    In April of last year, VOA followed the progress of six young Syrian refugees -- four brothers and their two friends -- as they made their way from Libya to Italy by boat, and eventually to Germany. Reporter Henry Ridgwell caught up with the refugees again in Berlin, as they struggle to forge new lives amid the turmoil of Europe's refugee crisis.
    Video

    Video Zika Virus May be Hard to Stop

    With the Zika virus spreading rapidly, the World Health Organization Monday declared Zika a global health emergency. As Alberto Pimienta reports, for many governments and experts, the worst is yet to come.