, FREETOWN, Dec 18 – Sierra Leone gender activists on Monday bemoaned the low representation of women in the country’s parliament after recent general elections, saying it has steadily decreased.
“The blame should be laid on the doorstep of political parties,” said gender activist Caroline Smart, adding that they had not come through on promises to see a 30 percent quota for women in parliament.
Bernadette Lahai is the newly elected parliamentary leader of the opposition Sierra Leone People’s Party and the only woman to ever hold the post.
She noted that in 2002, the 124-seat parliament had 19 women lawmakers. This dropped to 17 in 2007 and at the moment, there are only 15.
“Current women’s representation in parliament reduced drastically instead of improving. If this decrease continues, it will not only impede gender equality but will also affect the development of the country,” she told AFP.
She urged the government to emulate Rwanda — which is leading the continent in political equality with 56 percent of women in parliament — by carrying out “a constitutional review that would adequately address the affirmative action of women’s representation”.
One of the founders of the local women’s advocacy group 50/50, Nemata Majeks Walter, said political parties were reluctant to field female candidates and “male candidates should realise that women politicians too have rights to take part in politics”.
As President Ernest Koroma, who was re-elected for a second term, puts together his new cabinet, she urged him to increase the number of women. His last cabinet included only two women in the health and tourism portfolios.
“The president would be fed up seeing 24 male faces. He should at least see 12 females and 12 males,” she said.
This weekend Koroma pledged that his administration “will enact legislation on the 30 percent quota for women in politics and encourage women to enter into sectors hitherto traditionally the exclusive reserve of men”.