Sierra Leone has passed a landmark new law on gender equality

Sierra Leone has passed a landmark new law on gender equality

Sierra Leone has passed a landmark law to encourage women’s participation in the workplace and in politics. 

The new legislation is part of the government’s efforts to advance women’s rights in the country. According to the UN’s 2020 Gender Development Index, Sierra Leone has one of the lowest levels of gender equality in the world, ranking 182nd out of 189 countries. 

“For so long, we have not been fair to you. On behalf of the men folk of this country, I want to apologise,” President Julius Maada Bio said in a speech last week. “We must do all it takes to facilitate the timely, full, and unconditional inclusion of women in our national life, governance, and development.” 

Women in leadership

The president signed the Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment Act (GEWE) into law on January 19, calling for a 30% minimum quota of women in parliament and in cabinet. 

The law also requires companies to ensure 30% of senior-level jobs go to women, and assures 14 weeks of paid maternity leave, along with equal pay and training opportunities for men and women. Employers who fail to meet the quota risk a fine of at least 50,000 leones (equivalent to US$2,580, or €2,400), and even prison time for institutions like banks if they deny equal financial support.

In Sierra Leone, women are underrepresented in politics. According to the World Bank, they currently make up only 12% of parliamentarians. Minister of Gender and Children’s Affairs Manty Tarawalli applauded the “groundbreaking” Act, stating that it “will break the economic and political exclusion shackles for urban and rural women across the country.”

Women’s right to land

The GEWE is being implemented alongside the Customary Land Rights Act 2022 which gives women the same rights as men to own, lease, or buy land. Signed into law in September last year, it states that: “Any customary law that excludes, limits or inhibits women from owning, holding, using, transferring, inheriting, succeeding to or dealing with land subject to customary law shall be void.” 

In Sierra Leone, 95% of the land is governed by customary law – the unwritten traditional rules and practices of tribes or communities that determine who is able to hold, use or transfer land. With the new Act, the government is aiming to address the deep inequalities and discrimination in land ownership and control.

These laws are among some of the important steps the government has taken in recent years to advance the rights of women and girls. In 2020, Sierra Leone ended a decade-long discriminatory ban against pregnant schoolgirls and teenage mothers.

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