SIERRA LEONE: Cord Aid, Help-SL Empower Women for Development

Thursday, November 18, 2010
Western Africa
Sierra Leone
PeaceWomen Consolidated Themes: 
Reconstruction and Peacebuilding

Local non-governmental organization Hands Empowering the Less Privileged in Sierra Leone (HELP-SL) with support from Cord Aid Netherlands has commenced a seven-day facilitators' training workshop on 'Star Circle Methodology' at Segbwema, Jong chiefdom, Bonthe district, southern Sierra Leone.

The training is targeting participants from Jong and Imperi chiefdoms in the Bonthe district. Similar trainings will be replicated in the other four districts of Bo, Pujehun, Moyamba and Tonkolili.

According to Janet Kona Momoh, Director of Programme HELP-SL, Star Circle Methodology is a right-based approach aimed at empowering vulnerable and marginalized women in rural communities. "The Star is a process of moving from the pool of dependence to the sea of positive transformation for development.

The Circle usually comprises 20 people mostly women and other stakeholders who sit down to brainstorm around burning community issues and proffer solutions. In other words, the Circle is the community parliament," Mrs. Momoh explained.

The training, according to Joseph Davies - head of trainings HELP-SL - is aimed at promoting gender equality, human rights and to rally women to take leadership roles in a society plagued with male chauvinism.

Women in most communities in rural Sierra Leone are not heard; they are being excluded from decision making processes and cannot hold key positions in certain communities. For instance, in some chiefdoms women are not allowed to become paramount chiefs because culture and tradition forbid it.

Similarly in the Muslim religion, women are not allowed to lead prayers; therefore all these restrictions have placed our womenfolk in an inferior state. They are also discriminated against inheritance and land ownership in most communities. Women have become powerless; they are vulnerable to violations by their husbands.

As a result of all these rights denials, the Star Circle seeks to address some of these challenges through empowerment. Government has passed the Gender Act since 2007 but yet abuses on women continue unabated. Thus continuous engagement with women and self empowerment might be the answer to these problems. Sierra Leone as a nation will only develop when we change our stereotype thinking and mindset about women and consider them as partners in development.

There is an adage that says: "If you know your right, you will fight for it"; the Star Circle Methodology has gender, capacity building, economic and community empowerment, literacy and numeracy, advocacy, HIV/AIDS amongst others as components. It is an appropriate tool that could bring about positive development in the operational communities. The Star Circle process places the capacity and perceptive of people at the centre of development.

One of the participants, Mariama Luseni, described the training as timely, noting that teenage pregnancy is the major challenge in Bonthe district. She said it is now their responsibility as Star Circle facilitators after the training to champion the cause of women and ensure they are given a voice in the society.

Madam Luseni was optimistic that the training will empower them to take leadership roles and help transform their communities.

Meanwhile, it is expected that after the workshop participants in all five districts will set up a Star Circle team that will champion development in their localities, and also help promote and protect the rights of women and children. They should be the agents of change and human rights activists at community level and thereby help to reduce gender-based violence and other forms of human rights abuses.

The Star Circle Methodology has created major impact in other communities that have gone through the rudiments of the trainings and have begun its implementation in the last two years.

Women who have never been to school can now read and write through the literacy classes; women are now consulted in decision making in Star communities and above all, Star members are peace makers as they have been able to settle many disputes in their localities. Besides, Star women have gained access to loans from HELP-SL through the village lending scheme which has economically empowered them.

HELP-SL believes that social change goes along with economic empowerment.