Sierra Leone has witnessed a significant increase in the number of women lawmakers, with the West African nation’s first legislative elections since the implementation of a law aimed at enhancing female representation. According to data compiled by the Freetown-based Institute for Governance Reform, forty-one women have been elected to parliamentary posts out of the 135 seats that were up for election. This represents more than a doubling of female representation, with women now occupying 30% of the elected seats.

The increase in women lawmakers is in line with the target set by President Julius Maada Bio’s administration, who was reelected in the June 24 ballot. President Bio had advocated for a 30% minimum quota for women’s representation in parliament and cabinet, a goal that has now been achieved in the legislative branch.

However, when accounting for the additional 14 seats reserved for local leaders, known as paramount chiefs, women’s overall share in the 149-seat chamber drops slightly to 28%. Only one woman was named to occupy one of these reserved seats, resulting in a smaller percentage than initially anticipated. Nonetheless, this figure still represents a significant improvement compared to the previous national assembly, where women held just 13% of the seats.

Sierra Leone joins a growing number of African countries that have implemented laws to promote women’s participation in decision-making roles. According to the Inter-Parliamentary Union, chambers with legislated quotas produced a considerably higher percentage of women representatives compared to those without such provisions. Globally, chambers with quotas achieved a 30.9% representation of women, whereas chambers without quotas only reached 21.2% in the last year’s elections.

Sierra Leone’s Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment Act, signed into law by President Bio in January, specifically targets a 30% minimum quota for women in parliament and cabinet. The application of the quota in parliament involved parties vying for seats submitting lists where one in every three candidates was a woman. Speaker Abass Chernor Bundu clarified that a quota can only be enforced if there are sufficient female candidates available for selection.

While President Bio appointed four women to his initial 28-member cabinet when he assumed office in 2018, his new administration is yet to be formed. According to the law, the president is urged to consider appointing women to at least 30% of cabinet posts. Additionally, the law stipulates that for appointments made by individuals other than the president, at least 30% of those positions should be occupied by women.

Sierra Leone’s strides towards gender equality in political representation are commendable and signify a significant step forward for the nation. With an increased number of women lawmakers, Sierra Leone is poised to benefit from a more diverse and inclusive legislative body that better reflects the country’s population.

Source: Katarina Hoije, Bloomberg News with assistance from Moses Mozart Dzawu.

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