Sierra Leone passed a law Thursday requiring public and private entities to reserve 30 per cent of their jobs for women, in a bid to tackle gender imbalances in a society that favours men.
President Julius Maada Bio signed into law the bill, which also assures women at least 14 weeks of maternity leave, equal pay and training opportunities.
Bio said it would “address the gender imbalances in this country comprehensively. We have to make sure it works.
“We must end the impunity or violence against women in elections and public life and punish all persons and entities found guilty of such violence,” he added.
Women in Sierra Leone experience systematic discrimination and, according to Human Rights Watch, it has been common practice to fire them if they fall pregnant.
Many women and girls also face high levels of sexual violence, partly a legacy of the use of rape as a weapon during the 1991-2002 civil war.
The new bill also aims to improve women’s access to finance in a country where they have often been unable to get credit.
The 30-per cent jobs quota also applies to management roles, to stop employers from merely hiring women to lower-level jobs to comply with the new law. It applies, too, to the 146-seat parliament and the civil service.
Women are poorly represented in Sierra Leonean politics, as they are in many other West African countries. The country currently only has 18 woman MPs and there are only four women in Bio’s 32-member cabinet.
“Women who wish to serve in public office and their supporters must not be undermined, belittled, intimated or humiliated,” said Bio.
“It’s not going to be easy because that space has been occupied by men for a very long time, we must monitor electoral processes to ensure election fairness and transparency.“
Employers who breach the new quotas can face a fine of up to 50.000 leones ($2,600, 2,400 euros) for each violation.
“We are happy today as our dream for an improved political, social and economic empowerment of women and girls in Sierra Leone has started,” said Sally Ndimawa Adams, who heads the Sierra Leone Women’s Forum.
Sierra Leone is ranked 182nd out of 189 countries on the UN’s 2020 Gender Development Index. Nearly half of the countries in the bottom 20 are in West Africa.