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Christian Aid is supporting women standing in the Sierra Leonean elections taking place today, 7th March, a day ahead of tomorrow’s International Women’s Day.

Only 13% of MPs and 19% of local councillors in Sierra Leone are women. Working with its partners Social Enterprise Foundation in Sierra Leone and the Network Movement for Justice and Development (NMJD) in the districts of Kono and Kailahun, Christian Aid is working to put right this imbalance.

The general elections will determine the president, parliament and local councils. The Christian Aid ‘Power to Women’ project aims to ensure there are many more female leaders in politics. Its networks have been engaging political parties for months to influence their manifestos in favour of women and to promote the nomination of female candidates. It has also worked with traditional leaders as key stakeholders to influence support for women in their communities.

Christian Aid’s country manager for Sierra Leone, Jeanne Kamara, said: “We hope this International Women’s Day, we will be celebrating the successes of all the women who have received support through our Power to Women project. These women have often overcome huge structural and cultural barriers in order to stand up and make their voices heard in a male-dominated arena.

“Empowering women helps drive development but in Sierra Leone, the traditional patriarchal culture means that women have little power, or voice, in their communities, let alone the chance to be heard by, or represented in their government. We hope that by offering the support and training they need to push themselves, a new generation of female leaders will arise.”

Rebecca Yei Kamara is standing for member of parliament, Kono District. She said: “We are still struggling to make people believe we can lead as well as men or more than men. We want to increase women’s representation in the decision making, and politics is the highest decision platform. We will make sure all women are not left out. We will start with the women – who have ideas, are hardworking and encourage them, empower them.”

Iye E.B. Mustapha is standing for local councillor in Kailahun District. When asked what drives her to go against the traditional expectations of women to stand in the elections, she said: “I have suffered a lot, I dropped out of school, I didn’t get a good education and I see others suffering. I don’t want [women and girls] to suffer like I did. I want them to be the eye of this nation. The eye is important, the focus of the body. When the eye is good, the body is good. To live positively, to work positively. That is why I tell [girls], be good.

“I have a goal, to see women and children living the way they ought to – a better life. I want a better Sierra Leone. This is the start.”

Grainne Kilcullen of Christian Aid Ireland said: “Through the support of Irish Aid, our partner Social Enterprise Foundation in Sierra Leone has worked to increase the number of women aspirants from 36 in 2012 to 66 in 2018, who have registered with political parties to stand for election in 2018. This result shows that providing more space for women in governance and decision-making spaces is yielding fruits and raising the profile of women among the political parties in Sierra Leone."