30-year-old Hannah Finda Sesay remembers how she used to be before she became involved in the Kailahun Women in Governance Network, which helps women to become active in local, regional and national politics and government. Now, Hannah is the vice president of the network, which is supported by Christian Aid’s local partner in Sierra Leone, SEND, with funding from Irish Aid.
Kailahun is in Sierra Leone’s Eastern Province and most people lack access to good health care and schools. Like many rural areas in Sierra Leone, women in Kailahun also struggle to escape stereotypes, which expect them to take all the responsibility for household chores and the rearing of children. Women and girls are also often discouraged from continuing their education or taking up jobs traditionally done by men.
At the local level, culture and tradition have long played a role in determining women’s access to power. As well as encouraging women to stay at home, traditional beliefs, customs and local laws have for a long time strongly discouraged women from getting involved in local politics or community affairs.
The Kailahun Women in Governance Network has provided a range of support to nearly 9,000 women across Kailahun, including providing them with training in lobbying, public speaking and leadership skills to help build their confidence to successfully demand change and improvements in their local communities. The network also provided financial and practical support to women to campaign for the Gender Equality and Women's Empowerment Act, a new law that was passed in January of this year, which guarantees that women hold at least 30% of elected and appointed positions, all the way from local council to parliamentary seats and cabinet posts.
As Hannah explains, the network is keen to see more women enter into politics. “We want to change the mentality of saying that women are not capable of decision-making or that women cannot be parliamentarians,” Hannah says.
“We tell the political parties that we need more women in parliament, we need more women in politics. We’d like a female to stand for president in this country,” she adds.
The network saw the potential in Hannah that she was unable to see in herself and encouraged her to put herself forward for promotion, first as secretary in her local area and later for the role of vice president at district level.