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

US Investors Eye IPO for China's Alibaba

E-commerce giant handled 80 percent of China's online business last year, logging more Internet transactions than US-based Amazon.com and eBay combined More

Video Uneasy Calm Settles Over Israel, Gaza Strip

As cease-fire begins, Palestinians celebrate in streets; Israelis remain wary More

Video Chinese Doctors Use 3-D Spinal Implant

In treatment of a 12-year-old boy Chinese doctors used a 3-D printer and special software to create an exact replica of vertebra More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Chinese Doctors Use 3-D Spinal Implanti
X
August 27, 2014 4:53 PM
A Chinese boy suffering from a debilitating bone disease has become the first patient with a part of his spine created in a three-dimensional printer. Doctors say he will soon regain normal mobility. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Chinese Doctors Use 3-D Spinal Implant

A Chinese boy suffering from a debilitating bone disease has become the first patient with a part of his spine created in a three-dimensional printer. Doctors say he will soon regain normal mobility. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Uneasy Calm Settles Over Israel, Gaza Strip

Israel and the Gaza Strip have been calm since a cease-fire set in Tuesday evening, ending seven weeks of hostilities. Hamas, which controls Gaza, declared victory. Israelis were more wart. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jerusalem.
Video

Video India’s Leprosy Battle Stymied by Continuing Stigma

Medical advancements in the treatment of leprosy have greatly diminished its impact around the world, largely eliminating the disease from most countries. India made great strides in combating leprosy, but still accounts for a majority of the world’s new cases each year, and the number of newly infected Indians is rising - more than 130,000 recorded last year. Doctors there say the problem has more to do with society than science. VOA News reports from Kolkata.
Video

Video Northern California Quake: No Way to Know When Next One Will Hit

A magnitude 6.0 earthquake rocked northern California’s Napa Valley on Sunday. Roads twisted and water mains burst. It was the wine country’s most severe quake in 15 years, and while hospitals treated many people, no one was killed. Arash Arabasadi has more from Washington on what the future may hold for those residents living on a fault line.
Video

Video Scientists Unlock Mystery of Bird Flocks

How can flocks of birds, schools of fish or herds of antelope suddenly change direction -- all the individuals adjusting their movement in concert, at seemingly the same time? British researchers now have some insights into this behavior, which has puzzled scientists for a long time. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video Ukraine: Captured Troops Proof of Russian Role in Separatist Fight

Ukrainian officials say they have captured Russian soldiers on Ukrainian territory -- the latest accusation of Moscow's involvement in the conflict in eastern Ukraine. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the Ukrainian side of the battle, where soldiers are convinced of Russia's role.
Video

Video Rubber May Soon Come From Dandelions

Synthetic rubber has been around for more than a century, but quality tires for cars, trucks and aircraft still need up to 40 percent or more natural rubber content. As the source of natural rubber, the rubber tree, is prone to disease and can be affected by bad weather. So scientists are looking for replacements. And as VOA’s George Putic reports, they may have found one in a ubiquitous weed.
Video

Video Jewish Life in Argentina Reflected in Yiddish Tango

Jewish people from across Europe and Russia have been immigrating to Argentina for hundreds of years. They brought with them dance music that were eventually mixed with Argentine tango. The result is Yiddish tango -- a fusion of melodies and cultural experiences that is still evolving today. Elizabeth Lee reports from the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles, where one band is bringing Yiddish tango to an American audience.

AppleAndroid