2012 is Election year in Sierra Leone, the second general election since the war. There are two main political parties in Sierra Leone, the All People’s Congress (APC), now in power and the Sierra Leone People Party (SLPP) and there is a third party in the shadows, People Movement for Democratic Change (PMDC), which does not seem to be currently active.
As the opposition SLPP gears up to challenge the incumbent APC, there is a lot of lip service paid by both sides about the issue of increasing the number of women in political leadership; however, there is no evidence to substantiate the rhetoric. In reality, women continue to stay on the sidelines and for good reasons.
These male-dominated political parties create toxic environments that curtail women’s participation; the USA branches of these parties demonstrate such environments. From what we are observing in these parties, there are constant in-fights, laden with verbal assaults exchanged frequently, threats, etc.; it is no surprise women are intimidated, even in the Diaspora, and are keeping their distances from ‘Salone politics.’
We also refuse to be enchanted by the SLPP’s selection of a female running mate, Dr. Kadie Sesay, who is quite capable of the job but in our view, this is a smoke screen, as women are still very much ignored, marginalized and generally shortchanged (used) equally by both parties as they have always done.
Here is list of the women who are current Members of Parliament (MP); we commend Bo and Kenema Districts for electing the highest number of women, albeit a small number of 4 but still a far cry from the zero for most of the Districts. In our opinion, there should be a Hall of Shame for those Districts that have no women in Parliament.
|1||Hon. Alice M. Foyah||Kailahun||SLPP||B.A.|
|2||Hon. Theresa M. Suwu||Kenema||SLPP||Form V.|
|3||Hon. Bernadette Lahai||Kenema||SLPP||Ph.D.|
|4||Hon. Bintu Myers||Kenema||SLPP||O Level|
|5||Hon. Emilie Safula Moijueh||Kenema||SLPP||B.A./HTC|
|6||Hon. Marie M. Jalloh||Bombali||APC||HTC/B.Ed., MSc.|
|7||Hon. Marie Yansaneh||Bambali||APC||HTC|
|8||Hon. Mabinty Fornah||Tonkolili||APC||B.A.|
|9||Hon. Nenneh Lebbie||Bo||SLPP||TC., HTC|
|10||Hon. Francess Rogers||Bo||PMDC||CDC|
|11||Hon. Elizabeth Alpha-Lavalie||Bo||SLPP||ACIB|
|12||Hon. Emma Kowa||Bo||SLPP||BSc.|
|13||Hon. Florence Kombe-Bendu||Moyamba||PMDC||BSc.|
|14||Hon. Veronica K. Sesay||Moyamba||SLPP||B.A.|
|15||Hon. Victoria S. Saidu-Kamara||Western Area||APC||MBA|
|16||Hon. Salamata Turay||Western Area||APC||Certificate|
Of the total 124 Members of 2007-2012 Parliament, only 16 are women. What a crying SHAME that there are many districts that do not have even one single woman among their representatives. The map below is a visual of this mishap:
Some of the reasons for women’s marginalization in political leadership can be found in the language of our Constitution; to touch on just one of these ~ lack of English Language proficiency ~ is one of the obstacles faced by women. Here are some relevant excerpts from our Constitution to get us started:
CHAPTER VI – THE LEGISLATURE
PART I – COMPOSITION OF PARLIAMENT
(1) There shall be a legislature of Sierra Leone, which shall be known as Parliament, and shall consist of the President, the Speaker and Members of Parliament.
(2) Subject to the provisions of this Constitution, the legislative power of Sierra Leone is vested in Parliament.
(3) Parliament may make laws for the peace, security, order and good government of Sierra Leone.
Subject to the provisions of this Constitution, Parliament shall be the supreme legislative authority for Sierra Leone.
Obviously, the Constitution bestows enormous power on Members of Parliament to legislate laws that ultimately have profound effects on the lives of all people of Sierra Leone. This makes representation in Parliament a critical necessity for all.
So, how can one qualify to be elected to Parliament? Read below:
(1) Subject to the provisions of Section 76, any person who –
a. Is a citizen of Sierra Leone (otherwise than by naturalization);
b. has attained the age of twenty-one years; and
c. is an elector whose name is on a register of electors under the Franchise and Electoral Registration Act, 1961, or any Act of Parliament amending or replacing that act; and
d. And is able to speak and to read the English Language with a degree of proficiency sufficient to enable him to take an active part in the proceedings of Parliament, shall be qualified for election as such a member of Parliament: Provided
In our view, 75(1)(d) above is an outright exclusion of a large number of women who may not have formal Western education but nonetheless may well be fully qualified to represent their districts in Parliament. Currently, the literacy rate for women is 24% even though women make up 52% of the population in Sierra Leone. Given this low literacy rate, such a requirement is one of the major reasons women only make up 13% in Parliament.
If any change is going to occur, it would have to start with this requirement, as girls are still missing in classrooms. We must also recall a history that tells us we had great women leaders whose efficacy was not determined by their English Language Proficiency. Open the door of Parliament and other opportunities to so-called “unlettered” women and see what happens.