Sierra Leone Steps It Up for Gender Equality

Date: 06 March 2017

Sierra Leone has for centuries been engulfed in a patriarchal system that has manifested itself in the social, legal, political, religious and econonmic sphere and is deeply entrenched in cultural and religious beliefs. Power, moral authority, social privileges, control over land and property has mainly been in the hands of men. Property and titles are inherited by male lineage, and men dominate in political leadership.

At the same time, men play a critical role in supporting and enabling women’s economic empowerment, advancing women’s political participation and leadership, supporting women’s role in peace and security, and eliminating gender-based violence.

The Government and people of Sierra Leone on Tuesday 28 February, 2017 joined the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women) in the official launch of the Heforshe Campaign at the State Hall of the House of Parliament of Sierra Leone.

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Vice President Victor Bockarie Foh Signing the HeForShe Board. Photo:UN Women/ Cecil Nelson

The event was hosted by the Parliament, with a large number of Parliamentarians attending, as well as the First Lady Mrs. Sia Nyama Koroma, representatives of Government and the cabinet, including the Ministers of Internal Affairs, Fisheries and Marine Resources, Water Resources, Political and Public Affairs, and Tourism. Representatives of the Diplomatic Corps, the private sector  and civil society were also in attendance.

UN Women Representative to Ethiopia, Africa Union and Economic Commission for Africa; Letty Chiwara commended the Government and people of Sierra Leone for their relentless effort in ensuring that women realize their full potentials.  She noted that after the launching, Sierra Leone will be one of the countries with high interest in women economic empowerment and gender equality but calls on the people of Sierra Leone to increase the total number of female parliamentarians, Ministers and women in leadership positions.

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UN Women Representative to Ethiopia, African Union and Economic Commission for Africa, Letty Chiwara making a statement at the HeForShe Launch.  Photo:UN Women/ Cecil Nelson

During the launch, the United Nations Residence Coordinator Sunil Saigal emphasized that the launch of the HeForShe Campaign is an important milestone on the journey towards the eradication all forms of discrimination, and gender-based violence, against women and girls.  He also called on Sierra Leonean men to treat girls as their daughters instead of wives.

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UNDP Residence Coordinator, Sunil Saigal signs the HeForShe board.  Photo:UN Women/Cecil Nelson

In acknowledging the commitment of Government in leveling the playing field for women and men and in getting men to give their support to women, the Vice President of Sierra Leone, Victor B Foh, speaking on behalf of the President, noted that “gender equality is not a warfare issue but a national development issue in which there is a need to put an end to boys’ superiority over girls and to enforce women’s political participation and economic empowerment”. Passionately, he called on the men to be agents of change, “Because this is your fight. It is the fight for your daughters, sisters, nieces, aunts and mothers.”

Speakers, including members of parliament and the Deputy Speaker of Parliament expressed their belief that the HeForShe Campaign will serve as a stepping board in putting an end to gender inequality by 2030. The Sierra Leone Parliament is set to host the HeForShe National Secretariat and hosting further sensitization activities in the provinces.

Ismail Kamara is a Mass Communications student at Fourah Bay College University of Sierra Leone who attended the launch event. He initially thought that if women were economically empowered and in leadership positions, they would abandon their responsibilities as wives and disrespect their husbands. But he has now become a fighter for the cause of women to realize their potentials. “I have seen reasons why women must be empowered and supported, and I am going to join the campaign”, he said. Ismail is now an eager volunteer to take the message to his home in the provinces of Sierra Leone.

At the end of the programme, award-winning Sierra Leonean actor and HeForShe champion Desmond Finney presented awards to individuals who have made important contributions to gender equality in the country. Female singer and women’s activist Millicent Rhodes performed Sierra Leone’s HeForShe song.