It is African, if not a third world phenomenon, to regard women to be little of no importance. Wives are cooks, occupants of the back seats, dumb in society decision making, the weaker sex, and the list goes on.
This old fashioned notion is apparently practised both in the religious sphere (Islam and Christianity) and the secular world (governance). This has to a very large extent cause the marginalization of women in our society.
In the Western world, women equally excel contemporaneously with men as the present fight for the presidency in America is contested by a man and woman. In Sierra Leone, some men may say ‘we have elevated their status in society. Women are now ministers, parliamentarians, and even the current Chief Justice, etc. But this is just a small number of women who excel as against men. It is but like a pinch of salt. The country’s population has more women than men. The issue of excelling has no dealing with the competence of women i.e. women’s eligibility to learn and comprehend issues of our time rather than the forum or atmosphere set to empower womanhood had been a phlegmatic one. This makes very few women actually surfaced in society’s echelon.
There is a dichotomy between the few privileged and those that are under or less privileged. The former may sum up to about 10% while the later measure 90%. Why? About 90% of our women in this country are illiterates which sometimes led to their marginalization in politics.
In answering to this question, one will state that it started far back as in the beginning when the church failed to recognize women in church leadership. This could be traced as far back as the early church (Catholicism).
The church was powerful, the secular society had little alternative to accept and apply the church’s beliefs and values. Today, they have become acceptable norms and like measuring rod in most third world countries. From this, one can easily tell why our women are today institutionalized in this state.
In most parts in Sierra Leone, daughters are hardly counted as children for obvious reasons that they will eventually leave home and marry. Most of them are given into marriages at an early age of 10- 13 years. This means parents don’t bother to send their daughters to school. Many of these events occurred in rural areas and in mostly polygamous homes. By the time you take a turn of events, the rural population world have clustered or tripled that of the urban because it grows geometrically and it is obvious most of the women are unschooled and unlearned.
The true frame of women then in rural areas is pregnancy and farming during their first year of marriage. Year two is breast feeding and domestic chores; a second child may be on the way in their third year of marriage and so it continues. By the time she approached her 10th year in marriage, she would have five children and looking haggard.
The kids will all cluster in a room with the mother while the father shares room with the wife of the day. Women living in this state are automatically allergic to innovation. At a very short time she would look like 50 when she is just 25 years old. The mind is sick, totally sick. They cannot tell when there is a change of government. They did not concern themselves with the glaring absence of political party issues for their development but engulf in political patronage on tribal, religious and family line.
Most of those who venture into politics and succeed seem to contribute less in nation building due to some of these factors. Advocacy tends to allow some percentage of women to be appointed ministers and some elected to parliament. Only few excel in these capacities. At higher level, they are still affected by this inferiority complex and tend to stay away when challenges are poised to them. It is but important to note that the growth and development of every nation rest on the pillars of the women folks. One thing that is generally accepted is that women are less corrupt. They are very sympathetic and concerned about the welfare of others. We have seen some women standing up against any form of corruption and intimidation. To name a few is our NEC chairman Dr Christiana Thorpe who stood against all odds of our society to be influenced against what is right. Mrs. Zainab Bangura is also another example who has also excelled in the face of many obstacles.
I now call on all Sierra Leonean women to stand firm and work for the growth, development and inclusion of women in nation building, especially to take the country from its present state of underdevelopment to a state of development. The men cannot walk alone!
By Betty K. Milton