As the world gathers to celebrate International Women’s Day on Wednesday, this year’s theme ‘Be Bold for Change’ provides us with an opportunity to recognise the enormous difference women can make in Sierra Leone. I cannot think of bolder change than empowering all eligible women of Sierra Leone to register to vote.
Women make up fifty percent of our voting population. On a path to an ever stronger democracy we must ensure political access for all, not just the few. Enshrining social and political inclusiveness into our political processes safeguards our peaceful and democratic successes. Ensuring women across Sierra Leone register to vote is a crucial step in this shared political journey.
Traditionally, Sierra Leonean women had distinguished involvement in pre-independence politics. However, since this time, we have experienced challenges. For instance, in Sierra Leone only 13.2% of parliamentary seats are held by women, a serious underrepresentation in a country where women’s contributions are pivotal to our society and economy.
This can change. Today, we have the opportunity to revitalise the role of women in public life and celebrate those women who have consistently promoted peace and constructive political participation via the action of voter registration. Today, I am calling on all Leoneans to ensure all eligible women register to vote.
We have met many inspiring and innovative women through the Join 4 Betteh Salone movement’s ‘Betteh Tok’ consultations around the country. In these sessions, we listened to women speak of the challenges they face, but also their hopes for a Betteh Salone. What we have learnt is that the women of Sierra Leone are entrepreneurial and know what change they want for a Betteh Salone. To implement this change, we must ensure that our women register to vote.
I recently spent some time in the Kaffu Bullom Chiefdom, where I spoke with many women who had innovative business ideas. To support these women to make their ideas a reality I introduced a micro-credit scheme. This scheme will enable women in those communities to launch their own businesses and help transform the lives of less privileged women in surrounding communities across the Chiefdom. Economic empowerment is a crucial mechanism for change but this must be met with political mechanisms too – such as making their voices heard through registering to vote.
Be bold for change. Support women to register to vote. We are approaching an important period for our democracy. The first step of this process is voter registration. From 20 March to 16 April we must ensure all eligible women register. Take your daughters, mothers, wives, sisters and aunties to registration centres and encourage them to register.
This is the first step in fostering a stronger political process for a Betteh Salone. If we want to go fast then go alone, if we want to go far then we must go together.
Editor's Note: John Bonoh Sisay is the President of the Sierra Leone Chamber of Mines and the former CEO of Sierra Rutile Limited. He is now a politician.