Voting for Peace, Survival and Self-Reliance: Internally Displaced Women Go to the Polls in Sierra Leone

Saturday, September 14, 2002
Women's Commission for Refugee Women & Children
Western Africa
Sierra Leone

The May 14, 2002 presidential and parliamentary elections in Sierra Leone marked a significant mile-stone in the consolidation of the country's peace. Cognizant of the role of bad governance in the origins of the 11-year civil war that formally ended in January 2002, the Women's Commission for Refugee Women and Children's Protection Partnership office in Sierra Leone encouraged internally displaced women to register and vote for the candidate of their choice — a step that the Women's Commission considered critical to improving these women's lives and to ensuring their role in the reconstruction of Sierra Leone. Attention to participation of uprooted women in decision-making has, in the past, been focussed largely on camp governance and humanitarian assistance. Yet, in order to help sustain Sierra Leone's peace, internally displaced and returnee women must make free, informed decisions and participate actively at every point along the public-private spectrum of decision-making — from the home to the parliament, from the executive to the United Nations, African Union and other intergovernmental organizations. Voting is one of the most obvious and pivotal meeting places between the private person and the public actor. When a woman casts a free and informed vote, she acknowledges the crucial public role that she can and should play in the future well-being of her society.

On May 14, the Women's Commission visited several polling stations in and around the capital, Freetown, where internally displaced persons (IDPs) were registered to vote. The field visits were meant, first and foremost, to ensure that displaced women were able to cast their ballot freely and without intimidation. Secondly, the visits were conducted to understand both the views of the displaced women about the electoral process and the motivations underpinning their vote. This report is intended, therefore, as a snapshot of a turning point in Sierra Leone's history, and not a full-blown study of the electoral process in that country.

One of the Women's Commission's main objectives in producing it is to serve as a conduit for the voices of internally displaced women who have spent much of the recent, turbulent history of their country without an effective voice. The women interviewed said they cast their vote for peace, security, survival and self-reliance. To achieve self-reliance, they highlighted their need for shelter, food, education, health care and income-generation, in that order of priority. Their right to the satisfaction of every one of these demands is clearly and repeatedly justified in the international legal obligations to which the Sierra Leonean government has committed itself over the years.

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Voting for Peace, Survival and Self-Reliance: Internally Displaced Women Go to the Polls in Sierra Leone