By Omonu Nelson
Historically, women around the world have faced prejudices and other socio-cultural pumps that impeded the acceleration of their political fortunes.
However, tides began to turn about half a century ago, remarkably, when Margaret Thatcher emerged the British Prime Minister. Since then, pockets of women have broken through the societal iron-ceiling to assume number one leadership positions in a heavily patriarchal world.
With the emergence of women like Gloria Macapagal Arroyo as president of the Philippines, Angeles Merkel of Germany; Dilma Roussef of Brazil; Jacinda Ardern became New Zealand’s third female prime minister after Jenny Shipley (1997–1999) and Helen Clark (1999–2008). The struggle climaxed when the former United States First Lady and Secretary of State, Hilary Rohdam Clinton clinched the Democratic Party presidential ticket in 2016.
Africa has had its fair share of success stories. For instance, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf became the 24th President of Liberia in 2006. Also, Joyce Hilda Banda became President of Malawi in 2012.
Despite the huge leap in the political fortunes of women, there’s still a long walk to Uhuru. Regardless of the push and pull that have characterised the efforts towards passage of 35 percent affirmation for women bill in Nigeria, a senator of the federal republic of Nigeria, Hajia Aisha Ahmed Binani is on the verge of breaking political jinx by becoming the country’s first democratically elected female governor.
Women in the West African subregion under the auspices of ECOFEPA (the female Caucus of the ECOWAS Parliament) are in a haste to catch-up with their counterparts in East Africa, where Kenyan women were able to extract commitment from William Ruto before he was elected President. President Ruto had on June 10, during his electioneering promised to distribute free sanitary towels, fully implement the two thirds gender rule, allocate a half of his cabinet to women and promote access to better healthcare for all women.
Similarly, women Political Participation in Rwanda received huge boost under the leadership of Paul Kagame. Rwanda is the first country in the world with a female majority in parliament with 61.3% in the Chamber of Deputies.
Borrowing a leaf from the success story of women in Rwanda, Kenya and lately Sierra Leone, ECOFEPA recently held a two days symposium in Free Town, Sierra Leone. The event was targeted at sensitising the public on proportional representation of women in politics, titled: “Scaling up Political Partnership between Men and Women”. It also intends to unleash the potential of women and youth in politics and entrepreneurship.
The choice of Sierra Leone couldn’t have been better. It would be recalled that Sierra Leone had in January 2023, passed a law, called the Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment Act (GEWE), which requires public and private employers to reserve 30 percent of jobs for women, including leadership positions, and stipulates that 30 percent of candidates put forward by any political party for parliamentary and local elections must be female.
The elated President of Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Female Parliamentarians Association (ECOFEPA), Woraye Sarr, commended the Sierra Leonean government for breaking the record by putting women on the map of history by passing the gender bill on the 30 per cent (30%) affirmative action.
She further charged member State of the ECOWAS region to take a queue from what Sierra Leone has done by giving women the opportunity to be part of governance at all strata.
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She added that the political representation of women in the ECOWAS region compared to developed countries is relatively low as youths and women participation falls short of expectation.
According to her, “it is hoped this symposium would deepen the understanding of the critical role of women and youths in politics.
“I say a hearty congratulations to all the Sierra Leonean Women for this great achievement, most especially, to Her Excellency, Mrs Fatima Maada Bio, the First Lady of the Republic of Sierra Leone, the Leadership of the National Assembly and its members, He4She Champions and everyone who provided technical support towards making the Act a resounding success. I must say that history will not forget your labour of love and we are indeed proud of you.
“Nevertheless, some countries in ECOWAS had made progress in the enactment of the laws and policies for institutions to promote and protect women’s rights, yet there is still a huge deficit when it comes to effective implementation of the Act.
I’d like to reiterate that gender machineries remain among the weakest public institutions especially at a time when they are needed the most to push the women and youths agenda forward,” she noted.
In her remarks, the ECOFEPA Caucus Leader, Hon. Veronica Kadia Sesay, a Parliamentarian from Sierra Leone also thanked the executive for recognition giving to women in the country.
“Despite the recognition of the important role of women and youths in national development, these groups continues to be marginalized in our society, hence the need for practical actions to change the status quo.
“It is even hoped that we [Sierra Leone] will exceed the Rwanda percentage, considering the enthusiasm of the sitting President Julius Maada Bio that he has for gender issues. The accomplishment of a 30 per cent quota reserve for women in Government and all levels of decision-making guarantees that women are going to be represented equally,” she reiterated.
In his response, the Vice President, Dr. Jaloh thanked the women group for finding it worthy to bring the sensitisation campaign for scaling women in politics to Sierra Leone.
As he emphasised the need for women representation and participation in governance at all levels for promotion of a better and peaceful society.
It is hoped that the feat achieved in Sierra Leone will serve as trigger for greater women Political empowerment in the West African subregion.