All eyes are on Sierra Leone and its cliffhanger elections tomorrow. It actually is a crucial election, with a great deal at stake (even if The New York Times has thus far not mentioned a word). And one group that is precariously positioned in this election is women.
Out of 538 candidates for Parliament, only 38 are women. Of 1,283 candidates for local council seats, a mere 337 are women. Many women activists, such as Barbara Bangura, the director of the women’s organisation Grassroots Empowerment for Self Reliance, lay much of the blame on current women parliamentarians who failed to get the Parliament to pass, or even seriously consider, the Gender Equality Bill. The Gender Equality Bill would have mandated that 30% of the legislators be women.
Why did the Bill fail? Some in the Women’s Parliamentary Caucus claim there was confusion. Others say intimidation of women candidates and office holders is all too common.
Whatever the reason, there will be a sharp decline in the number of women in Parliament and in local offices. For that reason alone, women are already organizing to re-table it post election.
While the numbers are fairly dismal, there’s one number that shows some promise: 2. And that number 2 has a woman’s name: Kadi Sesay. The opposition party, Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP), is running Kadi Sesay as vice-president. If Julius Maada Bio becomes President, Sierra Leone will have a woman Vice-President for the first time.
Sesay has been a first woman on a number of occasions, from academic head of department to National Commission head to Ministerial positions. She’s a groundbreaker Sierra Leonean feminist leader and feminist builder of real democracy who, for decades and at every step, has worked closely with women’s groups, women’s movements, women.
While the election of one woman to a high office won’t resolve the extraordinarily high maternal mortality rate in Sierra Leone, nor the crisis of women’s high indebtedness, nor the challenges women farmers face either in the rural zones or in the cities, nor the inequities women face in the courts, it’s still something.
According to the BBC tomorrow’s election is all about becoming an adult: “Sierra Leone may be about to prove it has grown up.”
The possible accession of Kadi Sesay to the Vice-Presidency of Sierra Leone is not a passage into adulthood. Sierra Leone is not a child. Tell the BBC. Tell them, as well, about Kadi Sesay, an African feminist leader.
Dan Moshenberg, firstname.lastname@example.org