Freetown, SIERRA LEONE – The National Conference on Women’s Participation in the 2023 Elections in Sierra Leone, organized by UN Women Sierra Leone, featured a speech delivered by Mr Enrico Sborgi, the European Union (EU) Policy Manager. In his address, he stressed the pivotal role of women in political and societal development and the urgent need for increased gender equality in the country.
Speaking on behalf of the EU, Mr Sborgi emphasized that gender equality is a fundamental human right and that a nation’s commitment to women’s rights is indicative of its democratic and developmental progress. He underscored that women, constituting half of the population, play a vital role in all aspects of society, from the economy to decision-making, making their active participation indispensable.
Mr. Sborgi acknowledged the historic milestone achieved in Sierra Leone with the adoption of the Gender Equality Women Empowerment (GEWE) Act in November 2022. This Act introduced a gender quota system that resulted in a record number of women MPs being elected, more than doubling the percentage of women lawmakers in parliament compared to the previous term.
However, while acknowledging the progress made, he also pointed out that there is room for improvement, especially in terms of political will to enhance women’s participation in Sierra Leone’s politics. He highlighted the composition of candidate lists for parliamentary elections, where men predominantly led party lists and the underrepresentation of women among presidential candidates.
Recognizing that addressing social and cultural norms that discriminate against women is essential for achieving gender equality in political participation, Mr Sborgi commended the National Conference on Women’s Political Participation as a positive step in the right direction. The conference brought together stakeholders from various domains, including government, political parties, justice, civil society, and the media.
He also mentioned the EU’s collaboration with vital NGOs, such as 50/50, SEND, WOFRAHD, ABC Development, MoPADA, and Trocaire, highlighting the critical role these civil society organizations play in advocating for women’s rights. Mr. Sborgi expressed the EU’s commitment to partnering with the United Nations to combat violence against women and further support the women’s rights movement in Sierra Leone.
Mr. Sborgi emphasized the need for the effective implementation and monitoring of recently approved legal improvements, such as laws complementing the Customary Land Rights Act to grant women land ownership rights. He urged political parties to introduce affirmative action measures to include women at all decision-making levels.
Highlighting the EU’s support for initiatives in Sierra Leone, such as the adoption of a Gender Equality Policy for electoral operations, training for women election candidates, and capacity building for the Parliament Female Caucus and its members, Mr. Sborgi emphasized the EU’s commitment to gender equality both within and outside its borders.
In conclusion, he quoted recommendations from a 2011 article by Sierra Leonean researcher Maseray Ngadie Rogers, underlining the continued relevance of these suggestions for advancing women’s political participation in Sierra Leone. These recommendations encompass effective education policies, zero tolerance for violence against women, involving young people in community development, gender integration in political party manifestos, public sensitization on the electoral process, adoption of quotas, elimination of discriminatory practices, and strengthening the national gender machinery.
The two-day event, held at the Sierra Palms Hotel in Freetown from October 10th to 11th, 2023, aimed to examine various interventions implemented to enhance women’s political participation in Sierra Leone. These interventions included constitutional provisions, impediments to women’s political participation, gender-sensitive reporting and coverage, and the role played by security agencies, among others. PSN/16/10/2023