An umbrella body of more than a hundred women groups from across fourteen chiefdoms in Kailahun district, the Kailahun Women in Governance Network KWIG, has expressed grave concerns over the yet-to-be actualised 30% quota proposed for Sierra Leonean women to actively participate in the day today administration of the country, saying it is long overdue.
According to the women, despite assurances by President Ernest Koroma to ensure that the bill is passed into law, the document has been gathering dust at the House of Parliament.
"We have held series of meetings with stakeholders to know what is happening with the bill but nothing positive has been heard up till now. However, our elders have promised to press on so that the 30% quota is given to Sierra Leonean women. This is long overdue Mr. President," President of KWIG, Mariama Gbow, told Concord Times yesterday.
This is the first effort by women of the district to speak with one voice in an election year to electorates, political parties, district councils, traditional authorities, ward development committees, national election commission and civil society organizations to work together and advocate for women's rights.
The group stressed that it is determined to make history by influencing electorates to cast their votes for candidates and political parties whose manifestoes demonstrate the commitment to pursue gender equality.
In its political manifesto which was presented to the three main political parties - the ruling All Peoples Congress APC, Sierra Leone Peoples Party SLPP and the Peoples Movement for Democratic Change PMDC - last month, the women stated that the Kailahun Women Manifesto 2012 came about as a result of the collaborative efforts by various stakeholders including some non-governmental organizations to promote women in the community and the country as a whole.
"I hope that the unity of our voice will help to mobilize the voting population in support of gender equality and the development process in our country. We are demanding that electorates vote massively for women candidates to ensure that the minimum 30 % of every elected position is given to women. Women make up just about half of the estimated 462,000 population of Kailahun, but they are underrepresented in almost every structure and processes of governance. This district has eight parliamentarians and only one of them is a woman. Out of twenty nine councillors, only four are women," Ms Gbow noted at the launch. She added that the social situation of women in the district has been extremely unsecured and weak.
"Illiteracy among women in majority of the communities is more than 90% and the few who enrol in school are only able to complete primary education. Traditional practices are inimical to women's rights. Health and gender-based violence actions which are prohibited by law are prevalent in our communities. A survey in 2009 by the Ministry of Social Welfare covering more than 600 school girls in junior and senior schools found out that 95% of them reported inappropriate sexual contact with male persons including teachers, classmates, friends and close relatives. Access to quality health care services by most women especially pregnant and breasting feeding mothers in the district is limited. In Sierra Leone, the maternal mortality rate per every 1000 births was 140 in 2008 but in Kailahun, it was 189 making our district one of the most dangerous places on earth for a woman to get pregnant," she concluded.