Story by Alex Berry
Sierra Leone’s President Julius Maada Bio signed into law the Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment Act on Thursday.
The law aims to tackle gender inequality, and precarious employment for women in particular, in the West African country.
It introduces a 30% quota of jobs to be reserved for women in both the public sector as well in private companies. The quota also applies to management roles to prevent using low-level employment to circumvent the spirit of the reform.
The law also guarantees women 14 weeks of maternity leave along with equal pay and training opportunities. Employers who violate the law can face up to 50,000 leones ($2,600, €2,400) per incident.
“We, men, have yet to see or acknowledge women’s rightful position fully, and this law will give us tools to correct that,” Bio said in a speech, reported by Bloomberg.
Sierra Leone has one of the lowest levels of gender equality in the world. It ranked 182nd out of 189 countries according to the UN’s 2020 Gender Development Index.
Human Rights Watch has described the situation in Sierra Leone as one of systematic discrimination against women, with many being fired if they become pregnant.
“We are happy today as our dream for an improved political, social and economic empowerment of women and girls in Sierra Leone has started,” Sally Ndimawa Adams, who heads the Sierra Leone Women’s Forum, said.
Women in the country also suffer high levels of sexual violence. Rape was a frequently used weapon during the country’s decadelong civil war.
“We must end the impunity or violence against women in elections and public life and punish all persons and entities found guilty of such violence,” Bio said.
Women are also underrepresented in politics, with only 18 seats in the 146-seat parliament being held by women and with only four women present in Bio’s 32-member cabinet.
The new quota will also apply to the parliament.
“Women who wish to serve in public office and their supporters must not be undermined, belittled, intimated or humiliated,” the president — who is running for re-election in June —said.
“It’s not going to be easy because that space has been occupied by men for a very long time, we must monitor electoral processes to ensure election fairness and transparency.”
File Photo- President Julius Maada Bio is running for a second term in June© Ali Balikci/AA/picture alliance
AFP aided in the writing of this story.
Edited by Richard Connor
Author: Alex Berry