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We need more women in politics as we go to the polls in 2018

We need more women in politics as we go to the polls in 2018

With Sierra Leone holding a general election next year, it is unfortunate that none of the political parties are treating gender equality as a serious issue that needs addressing.  (Photo: Helen Johnson Sirleaf, President, Liberia)

NEXT year, Sierra Leoneans go to the polls and as the general elections loom, we remain in a nation that has failed to address gender issues and get the matter put on the political agenda as they are still largely underrepresented in decision-making positions at all levels. They have also not made major progress in attaining political power in legislative bodies. The number of elected women representatives in Parliament is still low and more and more women are engaged in formal employment, but are underrepresented in middle and higher management positions.

Furthermore the number of women leaders and decision makers at the various level of the decentralized government structure is still very low. Gender inequality remains a serious matter in Sierra Leone but unlike many of our African neighbours who are taking steps to address the matter.

There appears to have never been a clearer indicator of gender inequality in Sierra Leone than now, when female candidates and representation is not even an issue in our political discourse. With almost all the major political parties having settled for the status quo and chosen an all male ticket as their presidential candidates and deputies, those of us who would like to see more women at the helm are disappointed.

Globally, recent history is littered with examples of great women like Indira Gandhi of India, Margaret Thatcher of the UK, Angela Merkel of Germany, Benazir Bhutto of Pakistan, and of course Helen Sirleaf of Liberia, emerging as leaders of their respective countries.  They have all proven that women at the helm can be as good as, if not better than their male counterparts.

In an election year, everyone would expect the march of women to the pinnacle of Sierra Leonean politics to be a given. So why then does the contrary appear to be true and what can be done to ensure that there is more female representation in political leadership across Sierra Leone?

Chauvinistic attitudes towards women which relegate them to being no more than housewives remain the order of the day. This attitude is prevalent not just amongst Sierra Leonean men but disappointingly even an alarming proportion of women have accepted this dogma as gospel.

Culturally, there is a belief that women are supposed to be led but not to lead. It is not uncommon to hear women pull other females down by saying that a woman belongs in the home, echoing misogynistic thoughts. Across the country, there is a sad acceptance of a woman’s place as second class in society and it is thus no surprise that none of the leading political parties are interested in female presidential candidates or running mates.

To stand as equals, women, who are the majority in Sierra Leone, incidentally, must support each other and call for greater representation in politics. This must be across the board, including candidates for village headman, councillor, mayor, district councillors, members of parliament and even presidential candidates.

In our fight for a more equitable Sierra Leone, we women must stand firm and let it be known that our votes will only be for a party with a demonstrable respect for gender equality in their choice of candidates. Both the All People’s Congress (APC) and the Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP), the two main contenders in next year’s election, need to be made clear of this.

In what is likely to be a two-horse race between the APC and SLPP, we need to make it clear that whichever of them supports women will get the female vote. With about 52% of the population being women, our message should be that both the APC and SLPP ignore females at their peril.

By Zainab Tunkara Clarkson

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