At the African Women’s Leadership conference in Sierra Leone, President Koroma assures women of 30% quota by end of office.

Date: Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs, and other partners  organized the three days International Conference
Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs, and other partners  organized the three days International Conference. Photo credit UN Women

Drawn from many countries in Africa, women have converged to share experiences, challenges, successes, to map the way forward to women’s empowerment and leadership roles. ‘No longer men in front and the women at the back… has been the theme song of the women in Africa. They believe they should walk side by side with their male folks towards the road to development. The women, led by the UN Women Country office in Sierra Leone, in collaboration with the Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs, and other partners  organized the three days International Conference at the Bintumani Hotel in Freetown to suggest ways on how the SDG’s can be achieved.

The conference on the theme, ‘Engineering Change, Accelerating the pace in Achieving Results-Touching and Changing lives and Contributing to Sustainable Development in their countries, brought together senior government officials from different parts of Africa to share experience on how this contribution can be made.

International Conference at the Bintumani Hotel in Freetown
International Conference at the Bintumani Hotel in Freetown. Photo credit UN Women

The opening session was brought to life with the keynote address by His Excellency the President of the republic of Sierra Leone Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma who started by commending the organizers of the conference stating that the high profile representation at the meeting was a sign of hope that South-South co-operation could be harnessed within the African continent to enhance knowledge and experience in handling women’s issues. He also applauded the UN Women country office for complementing the work of the government making reference to their contribution to end the Ebola disease during the outbreak. He said bridging the gender gap in both the private and public life is not only important to address the issue of fairness, but also for increasing economic growth. The President highlighted the importance of mobilizing effort using the SDG’s as a pathway to attain gender equality by 2030 because all the SDG’s are related to gender equality.

Whilst acknowledging that there were still many challenges present, the president by way of portraying his commitment to the empowerment of women in the country underscored a number of development strides his government has undertaken to promote the course of women. He amongst other things mentioned the free health care initiative, special support to school going girls in the sciences, the passing of several gender justice laws etc which he said were all indicators to show that discrimination against women has no place in Sierra Leone again. As he recognized the many roles the women have played in restoring and sustaining the country’s democracy, he referred to them as the main stay of the country’s resilience. He therefore assured them of his continuous support to their development.

The minister of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs, Dr. Sylvia Olayinka Blyden
The minister of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs, Dr. Sylvia Olayinka Blyden. Photo credit UN Women

The minister of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs, Dr. Sylvia Olayinka Blyden in her statement, confirmed the president’s commitment to the promotion of women’s rights pointing out that the appointment of eleven women into key cabinet position for the first time in the history of Sierra Leone was a step in the right direction. However, she noted that they were living in what she referred to as a chauvinistic society’ which she said means that the support of the men is needed if women should achieve equality. Still wondering why the limited success in the women empowerment drive despite the many efforts that are underway to address it, other speakers therefore, pin-pointed on the need for proper parenting, focus on education and changing of mind set of some people as very important in moving forward.

Hon. Dr. Bernadette Lahai, minority leader in parliament from Sierra Leone who also doubles as vice president of the Pan African Parliament said the perceptions of some local inhabitants in Africa should be changed towards women’s move for development. She said attention must be paid to the home in that children should be taught to respect each other and also that parents should allow their female children to opt for non-traditional female opportunities. 

Ambassador Sinead Walsh of the Irish Aid Embassy in Sierra Leone in her statement noted as she buttressed Dr. Lahai and other speakers that dropout from school had an effect on the educational sector and that it is a sign that the future is compromised. She also noted that the issue of mentorship for younger women is critical adding that thoughts should be given to how it can be supported.

The opening of the African women’s leadership conference initiated a fortified and well inclusive participation of diverse gender brains and experts together with high level female government officials and representatives from other agencies and organizations crucial to the development of women and girls. The three days engagement will unearth strategies, deliberation and formulation of better gender sensitive plans to foster women’s leadership in every aspect and stage. The High Level Conference will create a Platform for exploring and deepening understanding to address gaps and remaining obstacles that undermine and hinder the achievement of Gender Equality and the Empowerment of women in Africa.