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Sierra Leone: International IDEA Supports National Women's Conference

June 07, 2024 • By Alfred Fornah
Highlights from the National Women´s Conference held at the 50/50 Group’s Auditorium in Freetown, Sierra Leone.

From May 30th to 31st May 2024,  the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (International IDEA)  supported the 50/50 GroupGroup of  Sierra Leone to host the first post-elections national women conference under the theme: "Actualizing Women’s Rights: Implementing Gender Equality and Women’s Empower Act (GEWE Act)", through the Sierra Leone Democracy Strengthening Programme, funded by the European Union Delegation in Sierra Leone and implemented by International IDEA. 

To build collaboration and synergy across actors in the gender and Women’s Political Participation (WPP) space, the conference was organized in collaboration with the African Women Leaders Network (AWLN) with support from UN Women and in addition to International DEA’s leadership through its EU-funded grants. 

Held at the 50/50 Group’s Auditorium in Freetown, the Conference brought together leaders, activists and stakeholders from various sectors to discuss and strategize on the implementation of the Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment (GEWE) Act in Sierra Leone. The conference stimulated dialogue, shared experiences, and developed practical strategies for enhancing women’s political representation and leadership roles across all sectors of the country. 

The event drew participants from women leaders in Liberia and online attendees from Senegal and Kenya, facilitated by International IDEA’s Women Political Participation in  Africa (WPP)  programme based in Nairobi, Kenya.  The aim was to establish a platform for intergenerational exchanges and collaborative learning to support the full implementation of the GEWE Act and the WPP agenda in Sierra Leone. 

In her statement, the President of the 50/50 Group, Professor Fredline M'Cormack-Hale, highlighted the importance of the Annual Women’s Conference, which has been held since 2021. “This is our fourth national women’s conference, and this one is organized after the June 2023 elections to take stock of the progress on WPP following the historic GEWE Act of 2022 and to bring women across the country (from all works of life) together to reflect on where we have come from and where we still need to go,” she said.  She emphasized the importance of discussing issues that affect women, celebrating accomplishments, and collectively creating solutions for the challenges still faced in women's political and economic empowerment space in Sierra Leone. “There has been commendable political will, as evidenced by the GEWE Act. However, translating law into practice is a significant reason we are here today,” she concluded.

Speaking at the opening session on behalf of International IDEA, Dr. Idriss Mahmoud Tarawallie, Head of the Sierra Leone Country at International IDEA Sierra Leone, underscored the role of International IDEA in promoting democracy globally.  He noted that the financial support provided to the 50/50 Group through a sub-grant under the Sierra Leone Democracy Strengthening Programme, funded by the European Union, was designed to support the work of 50/50 Group in promoting women’s participation in the political and governance space in Sierra Leone. He stated that four key elements are essential for effective democracy: representation, participation, rule of law, and rights. “Without these elements, there is no democracy, and without the meaningful participation of women, like their male counterparts,  in all these components, democracy will not thrive’, he concluded. 

In her keynote address, Dr Isata Mahoi, Minister of Gender and Children’s Affairs, hailed Sierra Leone's progress in adopting legal and policy frameworks that recognize and protect women’s rights. She emphasized Sierra Leone's commitment to various international conventions and treaties that aim to eliminate discrimination and protect women’s rights. “We have come a long way in the advancement of women for honouring our commitments. In the midst of all these efforts, we still have a long way to go to achieve gender equality and the empowerment of women. We no longer need 30 per cent of women's representation because we have already achieved that. We want 50 per cent. For me, I keep saying we need more than 50 per cent,” she said.

Speaking on behalf of the European Union Delegation in Sierra Leone, Enrico Sborgi, Programme Manager, Governance Section, EU Delegation to Sierra Leone, highlighted the European Union's support for women's empowerment initiatives in the country. "In Sierra Leone, the European Union (EU) is providing resources to support women's empowerment initiatives, including political empowerment through projects like the Sierra Leone Democracy Strengthening Project implemented by International IDEA. These efforts aim to promote gender equality and uplift women," he stated.

The GEWE Act was passed by the Sierra Leonean Parliament in November 2022, about six months before the June 2023 general election, following over 30 years of advocacy for meaningful affirmative action to enhance women’s political participation and leadership in public. Advocated by 50/50 groups and other pro-gender activists and civil society organisations, the Act provides for, among other things, 30 per cent representation of women in parliament, cabinet, and other appointive positions in the public sector. The national women’s conference was organized against the backdrop of a post-elections gender audit conducted by 50/50 Group and funded by International IDEA to thoroughly review and document the impact and challenges of the GEWE Act on Women’s Political Participation one year after the 2023 general elections. In preparation for the various panel discussions in the two-day conference, the 50/50 Group presented the findings and recommendations of the Gender Audit, and this set the stage for stakeholder dialogue. 

The conference concluded with stakeholders offering important recommendations to continue working towards achieving gender equality and women's empowerment in Sierra Leone.

About the authors

Former staff member - Alfred Fornah
Communications Officer
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