Landmark law on women's rights passed by Sierra Leone

April 3, 2023 : Sierra Leone’s President, Julius Maada Bio, has apologised to women for their poor treatment in the past. In a statement, he acknowledged that women had not been treated fairly in the country for a long time. The government has passed a new Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment Act, which reserves at least 30% of public and private jobs for women. The move is aimed at promoting gender equality and empowering women to contribute more to the country’s economy.

Manty Tarawalli, the Minister of Gender and Children’s Affairs, said that the law had been a long time coming and that women had been crying out for change for years. She added that the law would provide girls with opportunities for employment and business and allow them to contribute to the economy. The law also guarantees women ringfenced senior positions in the workplace, at least 14 weeks of maternity leave, equal access to bank credit and training opportunities.

Employers who fail to adhere to the new gender ratios will face hefty fines of £2,000 ($2,500), and banks that deny women fair access to financial support could face potential prison time. The government has stated that the employment law will apply to any business with more than 25 employees, but a final decision has not yet been made.

According to the minister, discrimination against women in the workplace remains a big issue in Sierra Leone. The new law will “change the status quo” and allow Sierra Leone to engage the 52% of the population who are women in the economy. Ms Tarawalli said that the move was a significant step towards gender equality but that more steps would be taken before the country could say that fairness was achieved across genders.

Prior to the law, the United Nations sexual and reproductive health agency (UNFPA) stated that gender inequality and the denial of women’s rights were still prevalent at all levels in Sierra Leonean society. UN Women has also noted that while progress has been made towards gender equality in the continent, most women work in insecure, poorly paid jobs with few opportunities for advancement.