A cockroach knows how to sing and dance, but it is the hen that prevents it from performing its art during the day – African proverb.
What is preventing women in Sierra Leone from performing our art of progress? There are many things preventing us and we see ELITISM as one of them.
Elitism is a perceived superiority of certain people due to their educational achievement, wealth or social status. Of course, these privileges do not automatically mark a person as elitist; it is their perception that makes them elitist. Elitism is also not limited in practice to these groups of people, certain people who may aspire to gain higher social status can also have a perceived superiority of themselves, even without the actual privileges. This makes elitism all the more pervasive in the Sierra Leone society and this is what makes it a topic of interest to us as it relates to women.
In our view, elitism is not only about people of higher social status looking low upon those in lower status, it is also about prejudice toward others who are from different regions, tribes, religions, etc. Women who are elitist perceive themselves as superior to other women they have these differences with and never mix with women they perceive as different or inferior to them. We believe that this is a pervasive problem among women of Sierra Leone and it is creating not only a great disconnect but a great hindrance to women’s progress as it prevents women from collective actions.
There is no solidarity between Sierra Leonean women of divergent backgrounds. Elitist Sierra Leonean women only associate with other elitist women with whom they share similar backgrounds; this can be seen in groups that are formed in the name of “women’s issues.” In Sierra Leone, many non-governmental groups have been formed since the war, all claiming to work for women’s equality. We believe they all have genuine and legitimate purposes; however, most of these groups are not representative of all women; poor, uneducated rural women, who are the majority of women in Sierra Leone, are usually absent in the groups. Elitist women usually claim to speak for all women while the uneducated, poor rural women continue to wallow in their plights silently.
In the Diaspora, especially in the U.S., it is very difficult to find Sierra Leonean women’s groups that are not based on tribal, regional, religious or school affiliations. The vast majority of groups that are formed by women are alumni association groups for the girls’ schools these women attended in Sierra Leone. The mixing of women of diverse backgrounds in these groups is very limited; their focus is usually only fundraising for their former schools. Sisterhood in these groups is not global, because of the forced mixing of women of differing backgrounds, you usually find fragmented elitist cliques within the same groups based on perceptions of each other’s backgrounds and other elements. At least they all get together during fundraising dances.
This lack of solidarity among women of Sierra Leone, both in the country and in the Diaspora, is a major barrier to progress for all women in Sierra Leone. The poor women’s issues are not getting the full attention they deserve from ALL women because elitist women who separate themselves from poor women are not taking up these causes to create change. Poor women are dying in childbirth at an alarming rate, so are their infant children; they have very limited access to medical care, the cost of which is exorbitant and unattainable and the majority of them do not seek hospital treatment because of this.
Elitist women usually have private doctors and hospitals at their disposal; they will not be caught in the same hospitals as poor women. The issue of women suffering and dying in childbirth in Sierra Leone is news to the elitist women of Sierra Leone and they show no interest in collectively combating these social issues, unless it means career advancement or self-promotion for individual women.
For the small percentage of women who have managed to get on the sociopolitical ladder, there is nothing more crucial than creating a critical mass of women through education and economic empowerment, not only for them to follow suit but to also collectively help those women who are breaking barriers to advance in their self-actualization processes. At the end of the day, allowing the current absence of girls in the classroom to continue and ignoring the vast number of women dying in childbirth only serves to hurt ALL women regardless of our social status.
This is why no woman should be patting herself on the back at this point for helping other women; we are all in this boat together, if we let it sink, we are all going down. Until we realize that there will be no progress or equality for women without ALL hands of women on deck, poor, rich, educated, uneducated from North, South, East and West, we are ALL stuck in gear one ~ we will continue to be deprived of political power and denied our rights.
In our chronically patriarchal Sierra Leonean society, it is only going to take the full participation of all women to achieve progress and we cannot do this if we continue the negative perceptions of each other that keep us separated along so many artificial differences ~ ELITISM is harmful for women in Sierra Leone, we need to erase the lines that separate us, embrace one another regardless of differences in tribe, religion and socioeconomic status. We need to come together as one force.