President of the 50/50 Group of Sierra Leone Tuesday said they are currently in the process of building the first Gender and Women's Leadership Training Institute in West Africa.
Speaking to journalists during a press conference hosted at the organisation's headquarters in Freetown, Haja Saiminatu Kassim said the group was the first non-governmental organization in Sierra Leone with a focus on preparing, empowering and energizing women for political participation.
Kassim said the theme for the anniversary is "Breaking Barriers: Empowering Women for Political Participation", noting that over the past 10 years, through its comprehensive capacity building programme, the 50/50 Group has empowered over 5,000 women to participate in politics in Sierra Leone and elsewhere on the continent.
"We have been extremely successful in creating spaces for women, re-invigorating the African Women's Movement and amplifying the voices of Sierra Leonean and other women within the African continent and beyond. It is the first African group to win the coveted Madeleine Albright Award, which is given to groups who have excelled in creating spaces for women," she said.
It could be recalled that in November 2000, the British Council invited Lesley Abdela to Sierra Leone to run a campaign and communication skills workshop titled, "Increasing women's participation in democratic politics". The key objective was to enhance and increase Sierra Leonean women's participation in politics. 40 Sierra Leonean activists participated in that workshop and at the end of the event, the participants were so fired up and inspired by their deliberations that they decided to set up a group to promote women's political participation, similar to the 300 Group in the United Kingdom.
Since then, these women have worked tirelessly to set up the 50/50 Group. The group was formally launched at an impressive and symbolic event in the Sierra Leone House of Parliament on the 30 November 2001 by the then Head of State Alhaji Dr. Ahmed Tejan Kabbah, six months before the 2002 general elections. They staged a Mock State Opening of the First All-Female Parliament. The launch was immediately followed by the staging of a poignant mock parliamentary debate on the need for equal or 50/50 representation of men and women in Parliament in the well of the House.
A founding member of the group, Abator Thomas, said a decade after the launch, the group continues to work on equality between women and men in politics and public life. She said the group is recognized as a leading advocacy organization in the area of women's political participation.
Dr. Nemata Majeks-Walker, chairperson of the 10th Anniversary Celebrations Committee, said the group was challenged with getting funds to continue training and monitoring of women in politics.
"It is difficult to acquire funding both locally and internationally, even the 10th Anniversary we don't have funds to celebrate it; we only raise money by hosting fundraising events and amongst ourselves," she said.
Majeks-Walker noted that the 10th Anniversary will be marked by a year of special events, including: a reception in honour of their mentor, Lesley Abdela at the Bamboo Hut, for which the guest speaker will be Umu Hawa Tejan-Jalloh, Chief Justice of Sierra Leone, in January 2011.