Dr. Lyn Graybill
When Sierra Leoneans went to the polls on November 17th to vote in the nation's third post-war election, they knew in advance who the big losers would be: women. That is because women constituted only 6.5% of the 586 candidates competing for 112 parliamentary seats. There were 12 additional seats for Paramount Chiefs Members of Parliament, or PCM, in an earlier election -- none of the four contested seats brought new women chiefs into Parliament. With such a low threshold of female candidates, it was predictable that the upcoming chamber would have fewer women than the outgoing one. In the outgoing legislature, 15% of parliamentarians were women. The National Electoral Commission confirmed the final results: 14 women won races in their constituencies, making the percentage of women serving in Parliament a disappointing 11%.
It did not have to be this way. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission in its 2004 report examined not only the root causes of the war, but, equally important, made recommendations for the future. Among them was the plea to political parties to work towards 30% female representation in government with an eventual goal of 50/50 parity within ten years. To that end, women's organizations had worked tirelessly to promote the Gender Equality Bill which would have committed parties to a 30 percent quota of women candidates. Unfortunately, the legislation failed to make its way through Parliament before the close of the last session.
At the press conference held by the Carter Center's Election Observation Mission on November 19 in Freetown, the mission's leader, former Zambian president Rupiah Banda, lamented the low number of women candidates and called it "one of the most important shortfalls of the electoral process." Mariya Gabriel, head of the delegation of European Parliament observers, concurred: "Female participation in public life, especially in positions of leadership, remains a challenge for the country."
Witness to Truth: Report of the Sierra Leone Truth & Reconciliation Commission
National Electoral Commission Sierra Leone
Sierra Leone – Women Shoot Themselves in the Foot in Elections Mohamed Fofanah, IPS News
Sierra Leone: 2012 Presidential and Parliamentary Elections Make Every Woman Count
Dr. Lyn Graybill is an independent scholar based in Atlanta. She served as a short term observer with the Carter Center for the presidential, parliamentary, and local elections in Sierra Leone. Please leave a comment or email WIIS for more information.