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Analytical summary - Gender and women's health

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Females constitute about 51% of the population of Sierra Leone. Most live in rural areas and are engaged in subsistence farming, petty trading and family management. Over the years, the Government of Sierra Leone has endeavoured to ensure that its programmes address gender issues and tap women’s potential to move into the mainstream of the country’s development.

Following the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995, and in recognition of the contribution of women to the development of Sierra Leone, the Government established the Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs in 1996. This signalled a novel and significant commitment by the Government to address gender issues at the highest level, a move that gave encouragement to women.

The new Ministry, in collaboration with donors and other partners, developed a programme of action for 1997–2001 called A Vision for Women and Children for the Millennium. This programme of action was laudable, as it had the potential to mainstream gender into the development process and to empower women for personal as well as national advancement. However, following the merger of the Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs with the Programme of Social Welfare, the programme of action has not been implemented.[1]

Nevertheless, the Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs commissioned the development of two policies: one on gender mainstreaming and one on the advancement of women. These policies emphasized the Government’s commitment to gender-responsive development and further sought to strengthen and provide a legal basis for gender-oriented sectoral policies.

Furthermore, in 2007 the Government enacted the Domestic Violence Act, the Devolution of Estates Act, the Registration of Customary Marriage and Divorce Act and the Child’s Rights Act. All of these Acts have been tailored to address issues of abuse against women. Women are traditionally not accorded equal rights with men in chieftaincy matters. As a result in 2009, the Chieftaincy Act was passed in Parliament to allow women equal rights with men in chieftaincy matters.[1] Plans are also underway to enact the Sexual Offences and Matrimonial Causes Act, while on the 23 January 2009 the Registration of Customary and Divorce Act received presidential assent. A draft national action plan has been adopted for the implementation of the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325.

In 2010, the Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs, in consultation with the relevant United Nations agencies, finalized a 4-year strategic plan covering the period up to 2013. The President, Ernest Bai Koroma, formally launched the plan on 8 June 2010. In the Local Government Act 2004, specific provisions require at least 50% female representation in the District and Ward Development Committees.[1]

In Sierra Leone, educational level is lower for women than for men. Women depend on their husbands or male partners to make decisions affecting their health because usually it is the men that have the economic power in the home.[2]

The Government is therefore committed to promoting the well-being and development of the girl child and to improve gender parity in education. Great effort has been made to narrow the wide disparities realized in the early 1990s. In 2003, the gender parity gap reduced for primary education. Of the number of children enrolled in primary school, 58% were boys and 42% were girls. Combining both primary and secondary schools, 63% of those enrolled were boys and 37% were girls.[1][3]

The gender parity index (girls:boys) sharply increased thereafter to 101% in primary school and 78% in secondary school.[1] Such a dramatic increase in the attendance of girls was the result of affirmative action by the Government to allow every girl child to go to school. Primary education school fees for all children were abolished in 2001 and in 2003 full support was provided for all girls entering junior secondary school in the Eastern and Northern Regions as these regions were recording low attendance numbers.[1]

Early marriage is a serious threat to the health of adolescents and teenagers. In areas where early marriage is more frequently practised, young girls either do not go to school or drop out of school for this reason.

Like early marriage, female circumcision genital mutilation is a deeply rooted traditional practice. It is generally accepted as a form of violence against girls and women that has serious physical and psychological consequences.[2]

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 Millennium Development Goals progress report 2010 (pdf 2.82Mb). Government of the Republic of Sierra Leone
  2. 2.0 2.1 Performance report. Government of Sierra Leone, Ministry of Health and Sanitation, 2010
  3. Millennium Development Goals report for Sierra Leone 2005 (pdf 835kb). Government of the Republic of Sierra Leone