Sierra Leone Passes ‘Ground Breaking’ Gender Equality Law

By Alinah O. Kallon, MMW senior journalist
Emelia Kamara Jengo Celebrating the Gender Equality Law on International Women’s Day

“As a woman and an activist, I feel fulfilled that all our efforts have not gone in vain. We now have a law to protect women in this country,” declared Emelia Kamara Jengo of Makeni in northern Sierra Leone.

She was expressing satisfaction about the landmark Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment (GEWE) law enacted by the government of Sierra Leone in January. 

The law mandates a 30 percent quota for women in appointed government positions, including ministry, cabinet and ambassador roles, and this same proportion for female candidates put forward by political parties for parliamentary and local council elections.  The new law also requires public and private employers to reserve 30 percent of senior-level jobs for women, with equal pay and at least 14 weeks of maternity leave. Failure to meet this quota may result in heavy fines and jail sentences for employers. 

Gender discrimination in politics and the workplace is a serious and urgent issue in Sierra Leone with women comprising only 12.3 percent of members of Parliament.  In the workplace, most women hold insecure, poorly paid jobs, with little opportunity for advancement, according to UN Women. Female activists such as Emelia and many women’s groups have been fighting tirelessly to provide a free and equal space for women to grow and develop their potential, which is critical for national development.  

After months of negotiation, Parliament finally passed the GEWE bill last November, and President Julius Maada Bio signed it into law in January. Many provisions in the law provide some semblance of equality for women, but there is a lot more that needs to be done. For example, Media Matters for Women engaged women on the streets of Makeni, Bombali District, to ascertain whether they were aware of the law; many said they did not know anything about it.

Women make up a majority of the country’s population, according to Gassimu Sesay, Sector Head of the Ministry of Gender and Children’s Affairs in Makeni. Therefore, gender and child-protection partners need to work together to raise awareness about the new law.

Jengo agrees that the law needs to be better known and understood throughout the country to hold officials accountable if and when they fail to enforce its provisions. She also encouraged women to take full advantage of the law as it will drastically change the status of women in the country.  

This new law is particularly important with the national elections nearing this June: It provides opportunities for women to run for office.

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