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

At Khmer Rouge Court, Long-Awaited Verdict Approaches

First phase of trial, which is coming to an end, has focused on forced exodus of Phnom Penh in 1975 - and now many are hopeful justice will be served More

Video When Fighting Eases, Gazans Line Up at Bakeries

When there is a lull in the conflict, residents who have been hunkered down in their apartments rush out to stock up on food and other necessities More

Video Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukraine

Downing of Malaysian airliner, allegations of cross-border shelling move information war in war-torn country to a new level More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
July 31, 2014 8:13 PM
The downing of the Malaysian airliner two weeks ago, and allegations that Russians are shelling Ukrainian troops across the border, have moved the information war swirling around the Ukrainian conflict to a new level. VOA's Al Pessin reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukraine

The downing of the Malaysian airliner two weeks ago, and allegations that Russians are shelling Ukrainian troops across the border, have moved the information war swirling around the Ukrainian conflict to a new level. VOA's Al Pessin reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video When Fighting Eases, Gazans Line Up at Bakeries

When there is a lull in the conflict in Gaza, residents who have been hunkered down in their apartments rush out to stock up on food and other necessities. Probably the most important destination is the local bakery. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Gaza City.
Video

Video US-Funded Program Offers Honduran Children Alternative to Illegal Immigration

President Obama and Central American leaders recently agreed to come up with a plan to address poverty and crime in the region that is fueling the surge of young migrants trying to illegally enter the United States. VOA’s Brian Padden looks at one such program in Honduras - funded in part by the United States - which gives street kids not only food and safety but a chance for a better life without, crossing the border.
Video

Video 'Fab Lab' Igniting Revolution in Kenya

The University of Nairobi’s Science and Technology Park is banking on 3-D prototyping to spark a manufacturing revolution in the country. Lenny Ruvaga has more for from Nairobi's so-called “FabLab” for VOA.
Video

Video Gazans in Shelled School Sought Shelter

Israel's air and ground assault against Hamas-led fighters in Gaza has forced many Palestinians to flee their homes, seeking safety. But safe places are hard to find, as VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jabaliya.
Video

Video Rapid Spread of Ebola in West Africa Prompts Global Alert

Across West Africa, health officials are struggling to keep up with what the World Health Organization describes as the worst ebola outbreak on record. The virus has killed hundreds of people this year. U.S. President Barack Obama and other world leaders are watching the developments closely as they weigh what actions, if any, are needed to help contain the disease.
Video

Video Michelle Obama: Young Africans Need to Embrace Women's Rights

U.S. first lady Michelle Obama urged some of Africa's best and brightest to advocate for women's rights in their home countries. As VOA's Pam Dockins explains, Obama spoke to some 500 participants of the Young African Leaders Initiative, a six-week U.S.-based training and development program.
Video

Video Immigrant Influx on Texas Border Heats Up Political Debate

Immigrants from Central America continue to cross the U.S.-Mexico border in south Texas, seeking asylum in the United States, as officials grapple with ways to deal with the problem and provide shelter for thousands of minors among the illegal border crossers. As VOA's Greg Flakus reports from Houston, the issue is complicated by internal U.S. politics and U.S. relations with the troubled nations that immigrants are fleeing.
Video

Video Study: Latino Students Most Segregated in California

Even though legal school segregation ended in the United States 60 years ago, one study finds segregation still occurs in the U.S. based on income and race. The University of California Los Angeles Civil Rights Project finds that students in California are more segregated by race than ever before, especially Latinos. Elizabeth Lee reports for VOA from Los Angeles.

AppleAndroid