Why are women in Sierra Leone not making any gains in political appointments or otherwise, in the New Direction administration of President Bio?
Sure, it’s been less than 100 days since President Bio was sworn in. Sure we need to give the guy a little bit of time to settle in and put his strategies in place. Sure these are the lame excuses the president’s supporters throw at you whenever you mention how little he has done for women so far.
As a popular Sierra Leonean proverb goes, “When you have been burnt by fire, you run when you see smoke.” Leaders in Sierra Leone have made empty promises to women far too long, we do not need 100 days to recognize empty promises that are not followed by immediate meaningful actions.
In less than 100 days, President Bio has demonstrated his ability to pave the way for his New Direction when it comes to issues and people that are relevant to him and his cabal. Of course, we have seen how he has wasted no time in appointing people that are close to him personally and politically. We have also seen how quick he is to take action when he cares to do so. A glaring example has been the recent sacking of the chief of the Anti Corruption Commission (ACC) who was appointed by his predecessor, Ernest Koroma.
We have witnessed how quickly Mr. Bio replaced the ACC chief with his own choice, which was quickly followed by indictments of corrupt officials from the previous administration. All these actions were taken before the President attended the 31st Ordinary Session of the African Union Summit, where he acted as Chair of the Peace and Security Council.
These actions were important for Mr. Bio’s attendance, given the theme of the 2018 AU Summit, Winning the fight against corruption: A sustainable path to Africa’s transformation. In his speech at the summit, Mr. Bio admonished his colleagues, “Our words should be translated into action…” This former soldier knows what it means to translate words into action.
As far as we know, President Bio and his entourage, which was majority men, stared clear of the Joint AU-EU Women in Power Event at the 31st AU summit, which addressed “…the need to empower women politically as well as economically and to tackle gender-based violence and gender-specific health questions on a high-level panel.”
Of course, our all-male leaders did not travel all that distance to talk about women’s issues, which is not a priority on their New Direction agenda. During their attendance and since their return, the men have been praised in the media for their speeches and their messages on corruption.
WHAT A DIFFERENCE REGIME CHANGE MAKES FOR WOMEN IN SIERRA LEONE!
As in the 2015 AU Summit delegation from Sierra Leone (above photo), there was one woman in the 2018 Sierra Leone delegation, but nothing has been heard from her or about her role at the summit.
So why has President Bio not put into action promises he made to women in his campaign and the manifesto for his New Direction?
Simple answer: Because Sierra Leone women are not Pushing for change as a collective!
The majority of women in the world who give birth do so through natural childbirth. And all women who have lived through the ordeal know that they could not have survived or saved their babies’ lives had they not PUSHED. It is how women have achieved any substantive change in societies in the West, and anywhere in the world where women have gained any significant progress in society.
Sierra Leonean women are experts at “pushing,” both in childbirth and for social issues. In a country with the most deplorable healthcare for pregnant women, it is by God’s Grace and women’s capacities to push their babies out of their wombs skillfully that is saving most women’s lives, and helping maintain the population of this nation.
Until international donors started doling money out to NGOs, in support of their hidden agenda to dismantle Sande/Bondo society, grassroots women had been well organized, with a grip on women’s collective “push” for social issues in their communities and our society.
In this “modern” NGO-intense era, however, it is ritzier for individual women to claim their sole championship of girls’ and women’s causes in the country, in order to gain favors with donors. The personal benefits of these individual championships, which are favored by international donors, are encouraging women to work individually and to compete with one another. This competition among women for NGO funding, and other personal gains, is causing women’s coalitions in Sierra Leone to die away.
Of course, the women’s wings of political parties exist to promote only what the men put on their agenda. They seldom join forces with other women on women’s causes; their advocacy for women, if any, is mostly limited to individual women within their parties or to promoted their parties’ agenda.
Even the current First Lady is banking on this culture of fragmentation among women by creating a separate group, the Julius Maada Bio Women’s Wing, within the women’s wing of her husband’s political party. This sort of fragmentation is pervasive among women throughout the country and in the diaspora.
After recent newspaper reports that the President of Sierra Leone had hired his wife’s friend, Mercy Johnson, an actress from the Nigerian movie industry, to champion girls’ education and empowerment in Sierra Leone, there were a number of individual protests, including write-ups, audios, and video messages.
Unfortunately, these protest messages were mainly campaigns on behalf of individual Sierra Leonean women, being promoted as the “experts” who should be have been hired by the President to champion girls and women’s issues in the country, instead of bringing in a foreigner. There is yet to be a collective of women to challenge the President on his choice of a national advocate for girls.
The appointment of Ms. Johnson could be a wonderful opportunity for Sierra Leonean women to unite and speak in one voice, as we should all be disgusted at the President’s belittling of Sierra Leonean women’s capabilities, efforts and sacrifices over many years of promoting girls education and women’s empowerment.
And because the oppositions to the president’s appointment of Ms. Johnson have been fragmented and individualized, he and the first lady, who is believed to be behind Ms. Johnson’s appointment, have felt no push or pressure from Sierra Leonean women to retract their action.
The dangers of the president appointing a foreigner are numerous for girls’ education and the general empowerment of women in Sierra Leone. Only we the women of Sierra Leone, not the First Lady or any foreign woman, could impart this truth on the president; but he is not going to hear us when we speak in fragmented voices, only our collective voice will get through to him.
The main and most critical point here is that Sierra Leonean political leaders are unapologetic and unashamed misogynists. Regrettably though, women who tend to find more ways of disintegrating than ways of forming a formidable united front, are helping these leaders who have no interest or political will to empower women in Sierra Leone.
Until Sierra Leonean women everywhere start coming together as one, across tribal, regional, political and class lines, to agitate our misogynist leaders for change, there will be no socioeconomic or political progress for women in Mr. Bio’s New Direction nor in any subsequent administration in Sierra Leone.
It is time for Sierra Leonean women to decide: Either PUSH as a COLLECTIVE for REAL change or continue our individual championship bid, which maintains the current deplorable condition for women in Sierra Leone, regime after regime, after regime!