Civil society in general and women in particular have a critical role to play in cementing Sierra Leone's transition from conflict to peace and development, a senior United Nations official said today.
Michael von der Schulenburg, head of the UN Integrated Peacebuilding Office in Sierra Leone (UNIPSIL), told a press conference at UN Headquarters that the West African country – which was beset by civil war until a decade ago – had become a “truly evolving democracy,” with free and fair elections now the norm.
The head of the Sierra Leone country configuration for the UN Peacebuilding Commission, Ambassador John McNee of Canada, echoed those comments, calling Sierra Leone “a stronger, more democratic country.”
Sierra Leoneans are scheduled to vote in presidential, parliamentary and local council elections next year and UNIPSIL's latest report, released earlier this week, said those polls will be critical in measuring how far the country has progressed.
Mr. von der Schulenburg said today that another test will be the level of participation of women in political decision-making. He called for a goal of having women comprise 30 per cent of parliamentarians and district councillors after next year's elections.
Women currently comprise only 12 per cent of Sierra Leone's parliamentarians, said Jabbie Kabbah, President of the All Political Parties Women Association, which was established to give women a greater voice, regardless of their political party.
“The women of Sierra Leone are ready to take the mantle of power, but we need support,” Ms. Kabbah said, citing a lack of education and poverty as two barriers to greater female participation.
Isha Josiah Kamara, from the Women Support Solidarity Group, also backed the idea of a female quote for the national parliament, noting that 12 seats in the legislative body are already set aside for traditional leaders.