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

Lion Cecil's Killing Sparks 'Canned Hunting' Debate in S. Africa

Conservationists believe incident, which triggered worldwide outrage, will reshape debate about practice in which hunters are allowed to target animals bred for hunting More

Environmentalists Issue Warning on Mekong Biodiversity

Scientists say decades of economic development, hydropower-dam construction, lax law enforcement and trafficking have taken their toll More

US Urges Taliban to Remain Engaged in Afghan Peace Talks

US Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Daniel Feldman recently met with Pakistani and Afghan officials as talks were disrupted by news of Taliban chief Mullah Omar's death More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’i
X
July 29, 2015 9:34 PM
Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video 'Metal Muscles' Flex a New Bionic Hand

Artificial limbs, including the most complex of them – the human hand – are getting more life-like and useful due to constant advances in tiny hydraulic, pneumatic and electric motors called actuators. But now, as VOA’s George Putic reports, scientists in Germany say the future of the prosthetic hand may lie not in motors but in wires that can ‘remember’ their shape.
Video

Video Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponents

A British pro-democracy group has accused Russia of abusing the global law enforcement agency Interpol by requesting the arrest and extradition of political opponents. A new report by the group notes such requests can mean the accused are unable to travel and are often unable to open bank accounts. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video 'Positive Atmosphere' Points Toward TPP Trade Deal in Hawaii

Talks on a major new trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations are said to be nearing completion in Hawaii. Some trade experts say the "positive atmosphere" at the discussions could mean a deal is within reach, but there is still hard bargaining to be done over many issues and products, including U.S. drugs and Japanese rice. VOA's Jim Randle reports.
Video

Video Genome Initiative Urgently Moves to Freeze DNA Before Species Go Extinct

Earth is in the midst of its sixth mass extinction. The last such event was caused by an asteroid 66 million years ago. It killed off the dinosaurs and practically everything else. So scientists are in a race against time to classify the estimated 11 million species alive today. So far only 2 million are described by science, and researchers are worried many will disappear before they even have a name. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Scientists: One-Dose Malaria Cure is Possible

Scientists have long been trying to develop an effective protection and cure for malaria - one of the deadliest diseases that affects people in tropical areas, especially children. As the World Health Organization announces plans to begin clinical trials of a promising new vaccine, scientists in South Africa report that they too are at an important threshold. George Putic reports, they are testing a compound that could be a single-dose cure for malaria.
Video

Video 'New York' Magazine Features 35 Cosby Accusers

The latest issue of 'New York' magazine features 35 women who say they were drugged and raped by film and television celebrity Bill Cosby. The women are aged from 44 to 80 and come from different walks of life and races. The magazine interviewed each of them separately, but Zlatica Hoke reports their stories are similar.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.
Video

Video Racially Diverse Spider-Man Takes Center Stage

Whether it’s in a comic book or on the big screen, fans have always known the man behind the Spider-Man mask as Peter Parker. But that is changing, at least in the comic book world. Marvel Comics announced that a character called Miles Morales will replace Peter Parker as Spider-Man in a new comic book series. He is half Latino, half African American, and he is quite popular among comic book fans. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports from Los Angeles.
Video

Video Historic Symbol Is Theme of Vibrant New Show

A new exhibit in Washington is paying tribute to the American flag with a wide and eclectic selection of artwork that uses the historic symbol as its central theme. VOA’s Julie Taboh was at the DC Chamber of Commerce for the show’s opening.

VOA Blogs