Advancing Women’s Development and Leadership Across Africa

President Koroma assures women of 30 per cent quota by end of office.

The African women’s leadership conference which started from 23-25 May in Freetown, Sierra Leone brought together gender experts, government officials, representatives and organizations from eight African countries to prioritize empowering women across Africa.

The three-day conference  with the theme “Women Engineering Change, Accelerating the Peace in Achieving Results, Touching and Changing Lives and Contributing to Sustainable Development” was led by the Sierra Leone UN Women Country office in collaboration with the Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs, and other partners who offered recommendations on realizing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

African women, Government ministers, deputy ministers, Directors, chiefs, councilors detailed their experiences, seventy participants engaged the challenges and successes in mapping out strategies to increase women’s leadership. “No longer will men be in the front and the women at the back”—a theme that has been echoing among African women that want to join forces with their male counterparts in attaining development. The President of the Republic of Sierra Leone, Ernest Bai Koroma opened the session by stating that its high-profile representation illustrates how South-South co-operation could be harnessed within the continent around women’s issues.

President Koroma said bridging the gender gap in both private and public life will drive economic growth, and he highlighted the importance of mobilizing people to use the SDGs as a path to achieve gender equality.

“I promise to enact the legislation on the 30% quota for women in politics” the president said to women at the conference. He also underscored a number of strides his Government has made in promoting the status of women, such as: the free healthcare initiative, which offers scholarship to girls studying science, and the passing of several laws relating to gender equality such as the child right act 2009, sexual offences act 2012, devolution of estate and domestic violence act etc. adding that discrimination against women has no place in Sierra Leone, he recognized the many roles women have played in restoring and sustaining the country’s democracy, referring to them as “the core of the country’s resilience”.

Awut Deng Acuil, Minister of Gender, Children and Social Welfare of South Sudan says she was born in the war, got married in the war, had children in the war and lost her husband in the war, “but as a woman I have been strong with determination to take leadership roles” she says, other Senior government officials shared their own experiences on how progress for women and girls can be achieved.

The conference explored strategies for creating viable gender-sensitive plans to foster women’s leadership in every aspect and stage. It explored the existing gaps and barriers that continue to undermine women’s empowerment and hinder gender equality in Africa. Sierra Leone is one of 93 countries to join UN Women’s Step It Up initiative for a Planet 50-50 by 2030.Minister of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs, Sylvia Olayinka Blyden in her statement, confirmed the president’s commitment, mentioning that 11 women were appointed into key cabinet positions for the first time in Sierra Leone’s history.

“I am ready to take up every issue that affect women and ensure that gender equality and women’s empowerment enforce a new direction for the betterment of all” says the newly appointed minister of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs.  Other speakers also emphasized the need for parents to focus on their daughters’ education and for efforts to change mindsets. The High Level Conference creates room for exploring and deepening understanding to address gaps and remaining obstacles that undermine and hinder the achievement of Gender Equality and the Empowerment of women in Africa.

Article by Cecil Nelson, Communications officer UN Women SL