The Concord Times encourages discussion about the low number of female candidates during the election

PMDC supporters rally in Freetown. The PMDC had only 10 female candidates running in Sierra Leone’s 112 constituencies, acquiring the lowest representation of women in the 2007 election.

jhr-trainer, Danny Glenwright and numerous journalists at The Concord Times tirelessly reported on the low number of female candidates in the 2007 parliamentary election – interviewing past female politicians, profiling female candidates, and providing statistics throughout their coverage. Because of the countless stories on women’s issues and number of female candidates during the election, various media outlets, aside from The Concord Times, began producing similar stories. There was increased discussion on the rarity of female candidates and the National Electoral Commission officials also mentioned the low number of women elected on more than one occasion during their press conferences. Read the original articles below

Women Sidelined in Upcoming Campaign

By Mariama Kandeh, Concord Times, Freetown, Sierra Leone, published on June 29, 2007

 

Sierra Leone’s three main political parties have put gender equality on the backburner in the upcoming election and are running far fewer female candidates than men. The All People’s Congress (APC), Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) and People’s Movement for Democratic Change (PMDC) all come in well below the goal of 30% representation of women in parliament, as set out in the Commonwealth Plan of Action and Millennium Development Goals.

 

Indeed, if every female candidate were elected from each of these three parties, it would only amount to a 33% representation of women in the next parliament, barely above the internationally recognized benchmark. The PMDC, with only 10 female candidates running in Sierra Leone’s 112 constituencies, comes in lowest, with 8.9% representation of women in the upcoming campaign. The APC has 9.8% representation, with 11 female candidates and the SLPP is highest, with 15.2% representation and 17 female candidates.

 

APC National Secretary General, Victor Bockarie Foh, justified the low number of female candidates, noting that gender is one of many considerations the party looks at before choosing a candidate. “It is not a question of just being a woman, you have to be competent,” he said. “The women, they shout but they hardly bite when it comes to politics.” Foh said he expects seven of the APC’s 11 female candidates to succeed in the August 11 election and added that the party had originally hoped to have 60% representation of women. “There are so many parameters and gender is just one. If you are not competent, you are not in,” he said.

 

Memunatu Pratt, Head of the Peace and Conflict Department at Fourah Bay College said she thinks the parties are only paying lip service to gender equality. “It is still disappointing, our male counterparts have not provided enough space for women,” she said. “For me, we still have a long way to go.” Pratt said the goal of 30% representation is possible in the region, citing Liberia as a success story. “We have women, let us try them,” she said, noting the high number of female community leaders in the country who aren’t awarded party symbols. “It is very disheartening.” She said there are many ways to get women involved in politics if the main political parties were truly interested.

 

The gender advisor for the United Nations Department of Peace building operations, Comfort Lamptey, agrees, noting that Sierra Leone signed the 1995 Beijing Agreement, which called for 30% female representation in national parliaments. “The current number defies international standards,” she said. “This is a very serious problem.” She suggested that the broadcast media should give more airtime to parties with the highest number of female candidates and she thinks the constitution should enforce 30% representation. “The remedy, I think, is unless there are special measures, we will not get women there. The law is not enough, we need other mechanisms to encourage women.” She said this could include more legislation and increased support from media and civil society.

“There are more educated women in post-conflict Sierra Leone than in Burundi,” she said, “but women are doing very well in Burundi.” The country’s last parliament had 16% representation of women, with 18 female MP’s and three female ministers.

 

Salone by numbers

Number of constituencies: 112

Number of women in the last government: 18

Women running for PMDC: 10

Women running for APC: 11

Women running for SLPP: 17

International quota for female representation: 30%

Percentage of women in last government: 16%

Number of female ministers in last government: 3

As Parliament Opens Women Vow to Continue the Fight for Equality

By Mariama Kandeh, Concord Times, Freetown, Sierra Leone, published on October 1, 2007

 

As she inches forward on the brown sofa in her sitting room her voice rises, her arms wave and it is apparent that Elizabeth Lavallie is frustrated. “I’m disappointed,” said the former deputy speaker of parliament and long-time Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP) member who was recently re-elected to constituency 75 in Bo. Lavallie is not referring to the electoral losses suffered by her party. Instead, she means the state of women’s issues in Sierra Leone and the number of women elected to the country’s newest parliament. She thinks female politicians have not received enough support from local women’s organizations and local women, many of whom she accused of neglecting to attend past parliamentary sessions at which important women’s bills were discussed.

 

The number of female parliamentarians was reduced after the recent election to just 16, whereas there were 19 females elected to the previous house. Lavallie has politics in her blood, inherited from her father, who was also a deputy speaker under the SLPP government of Sir Milton Margai. She is outspoken and passionate when it comes to women’s issues and is angry at how female politicians were treated in the last election campaign. “We are bitter,” she said. “All the women in parliament share the same concern because we were led like sheep to the slaughter.” She said women’s groups in Sierra Leone started their campaigns too late, misspent funds and focused on unreachable goals. As well, Lavallie feels let down by those women she thought would support female parliamentary candidates, even from within her own party. “We did it alone without the support from any party, neither the women’s organizations, nor our political parties,” she complained.

 

Despite these concerns, Lavallie is determined to personally continue fighting for women’s issues, but said she is worried the new government may sideline women. “I haven’t got the impression by the leadership in the parliament, I don’t see any women there,” she said, noting that she had hoped the new president would appoint a female speaker of parliament. “I hope they surprise me and appoint more women.” Once again, she blamed women’s groups for being unprepared to advocate the new government on the issue of appointments and she called on them to attend more parliamentary sessions and attend the debates on women’s issues. Lavallie also thinks it is time to implement affirmative action in Sierra Leone in order to guarantee that a fair number of women are awarded party symbols: “The law has to be amended,” she said.

 

In many ways, Christiana Wilson agrees with Lavallie, but the program coordinator for the 50/50 Women’s Group is more optimistic about the future. “We were thinking that we were not even going to get up to 10,” said Wilson, referring to recently elected female parliamentarians. “For us it’s a big achievement.” Wilson said the switch to a constituency system made it much more difficult for women, many of whom weren’t awarded party symbols because their parties feared they wouldn’t win seats. She also said it is more difficult for women to devote their time to politics because they don’t have as much money and support as men. “Women are generally poorer than men in Sierra Leone, so if they are going to leave their jobs, how are they going to support themselves?” She asked. Wilson said her organization is advocating the Constitutional Review Commission to eliminate the rule that states candidates must quit their job 12 months before vying for a parliamentary seat. However, she agreed with Lavallie that women’s groups and political parties were disorganized and fractured in the lead-up to this year’s election. “All the things were done late, symbols were awarded late, the primaries were late,” she said, noting that her group has already begun identifying new candidates for the next election. “There are signals that in 2012, with early planning, we will get more.”

 

Mary Tarawallie, a Freetown businesswoman, said she was disappointed that so few women were elected and complained that she was without a female option at the ballot box. “We have been voting for men for far too long, we need a woman now,” she said. “I hope the new government will include more women in the cabinet.” She said with more women in parliament, children’s causes, education and women’s issues are more likely to be addressed. And it is these issues Elizabeth Lavallie said she will continue to fight for as she heads into a new parliament as an opposition member.

 

“In my father’s day, politics was more beautiful,” she said, but it is obvious his political legacy lives on in her. “We work like a family in the parliament and the public must follow. We will work together, both men and women in all parties.”

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