It is all understandable for Sierra Leoneans to express their concern over the drop in the number of women Parliamentarians this time round. However we actually should check where we tipped, rather than where we fell.
What I do not understand is that a couple of years back, our Women Parliamentary Caucus, made a trip to Rwanda to study how their process went, in giving women a comparatively ample standing in governance in particular.
The whole process has challenges hinging on some of the tenents of democracy that may seem compromised.
Let nobody think giving women 30 % quota is that easy.
I have always pondered on how women can be accorded their rightful place without compromising the very basis of democracy, which we want to strive hard to safeguard.
This brings to mind the 12 places reserved in Parliament for Paramount Chiefs.
Many Sierra Leoneans are of the view that there was an immediate post-independence arrangement that has its root in the colonial rule set up. We all know the colonial rulers worked through Paramount Chiefs. In some ways, their being in Parliament when still Paramount Chiefs, probably contravenes the principle of Separation of Powers.
If Paramount Chiefs still hold sway in their Chiefdoms in terms of governance, then this position stands some ground. What is being mooted is that those seats given to Paramount Chiefs be given to women to give them a start-off.
With these 12 seats, we can actually have some 27 seats in the current Parliament.
I have to mention here that I have no briefs for Paramount chieftaincy; I am only really finding solutions to a challenge that seems to stay with us for quite a long time. In any case, we know the seemingly untoward stance of some Paramount Chiefs, when it comes to partisan politics for quite some years now. Probably this may all be because of the space given them in Parliament. I really think we have to think seriously on this. We may want to ask ourselves why is it that women are yet to succeed in getting large numbers into Parliament.
Well, let us look at some of the reasons that are responsible for this. Firstly, with over 50 % of our population female, one would think that if they all vote for their colleagues, all their candidates will win. This is not as simple as it sounds.
Let us go back to the process of parties selecting their candidates and given symbols.
This symbol awarding appears very important, but most times it is not taken seriously. We are even told that the symbol award processes at the parties leave much to be desired. Now we should first of all ask how many symbols were given to women. This is partly the issue.
Do the parties really have credible and democratic criteria for awarding symbols? What are these criteria? Is it partly financial buoyancy, capability or party loyalty or what?
One thing we need yet to do as a nation is to align our party processes to national democratic standards, itself grounded in the constitution. We have not yet succeeded in this and this is partly why we are yet to strike some equity in representation. If our representation is based on proportionality, things could have been positively different in terms of women representation in Parliament.
What many people use to kind of ridicule this whole issue of women’s representation in Parliament is that women do not vote for themselves but prefer voting for men.
There is a difficulty. This year we have 10 political parties. If all are up to the mark, they were to field candidates for all positions. For some constituencies it must have been difficult to get candidates let alone female ones. We still see vibrant male chauvinism being demonstrated in many quarters.
The only thing that is somehow creating some balance is the appointments that are in the purview of the President’s prerogative.
He has indeed done well in appointing women to very prominent positions like chief justice and Heads of some parastatals.There performance, by all standards has been commendable. He only problem with is , that is depending on the presidential prerogative is that that is where loyalties to the presidency can go overboard.
Another salient point counting against women’s representation is the low financial base of majority of our women.
I have witnessed situations in which women candidates struggle hard to raise their candidature fees for the positions they aspire.
The secret is most parties do not have the funds to support candidates and in most cases it is the interested candidates who sponsor themselves, with very little party input.
Why is this so, you may ask?
The simple fact is that many parties do not just have the funds to spend. Again it is not yet that formalized and complied with for MPs and Cabinet Ministers to pay some monthly subscription to their parties. In most cases many go individualistic.
This explains the unchecked cross- carpeting or what others prefer calling defections. Some do it with impunity, with no reference to their parties. If they had so much stake in the parties, like paying substantial amounts of money to their parties, perhaps their perceptions on party loyalty could have been different.
The other reason is the power dynamics still tilting towards men.
Still to a very large extent, command and control largely lies in the hands of the male folk. It is so ironical sometimes that even at events having women as the main stakeholders, the people who are in charge at the high table are sometimes all male. How stark this kind of irony. This is very unfortunate since it shows the kind of lip service that does us no good as a nation.
Why does this happen? I think the women sometimes fail to assert themselves well enough to get the men-folk to sit up tight.
In all this, poverty among women in particular, plays a major role. As long as women remain poor, they will continue to depend on their menfolk and thus command and control will be elusive.
Conversely, no matter how enlightened an African male is, he will, still to varying extents exhibit male chauvinism.
As they say, you can take the African from Africa, but you cannot take Africa out of the African.
We are sometimes tempted to go back to the very things that is so life denying because our whole psyche was moulded in the environment that placed the man over the woman in every way. Things are changing, do you say? Yes but how fast is the change?
By Ben Cambayma