A week-long seminar entitled "Integrating Women in the Armed Forces" kicked off yesterday at the Armed Forces Education Center in Wilberforce, sponsored by the Office of Security Cooperation at the U.S. Embassy in Freetown.
The organisers say the seminar will examine the significance of not just including women in the military, but to ensure their effective integration, adding that it would facilitate greater level of understanding and respect for the unique roles that women play in a competent, disciplined and professional military.
Participants at the seminar include members of the Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces (RSLAF), staff at the Ministry of Social Welfare and the NGO "50-50."
The seminar began by reviewing the United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1325, which recognises the disproportionate impact that war and conflict has on women and children and highlights the fact that historically women have been left out of peace processes and stabilisation efforts. Throughout the week, the seminar will go deeper into specific and actionable ways in which Sierra Leone could improve gender equality in the RSLAF.
The U.S. Ambassador to Sierra Leone, Maria Brewer, in her opening remarks at the seminar applauded the Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces for recently graduating over 100 new female recruits, including 18 officer cadets. President Julius Maada Bio recognised Second Lieutenant Patricia Kargbo as the top female officer cadet, highlighting how women can perform when given the opportunity. Ambassador Brewer emphasised though that simply adding women to the force does not ensure that they will be effectively integrated as cultural norms and traditions often prevent them from serving or succeeding in the military. The female ambassador expressed hope that the seminar would encourage participants to discuss freely the challenges associated with gender integration and develop action plans to ensure Sierra Leone has a modern, integrated, professional military.