Sierra Leone Monday passed a landmark law promoting women’s rights in the workplace and positions of power. The Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment Act (GEWE) was signed into law by President Julius Maada Bio, who stated that the law will “address the gender imbalances in this country comprehensively.”
The GEWE, introduced to parliament in 2021, requires that 30 percent of public and private positions are reserved for women, including leadership and parliamentary roles. The law also mandates equal pay for men and women in the same job, penalises discrimination against women seeking access to financial services or resources, permits 14 weeks of maternity leave for women, provides for increased training opportunities for women in the workplace and mandates annual reviews of the GEWE’s implementation in public and private institutions.
In a speech, Bio apologised for the country’s treatment of women and noted the numerous women who contributed to Sierra Leone’s history and democracy, including his mother, Queen Nyarroh of Bandasuma, and leader of the Mende people Madam Yoko. “This story is why, now that we have a stable and peaceful Sierra Leone, we cannot afford to have women, who make up 52% of our population, not featuring prominently in politics and leadership. Women’s Rights are Human Rights.” Bio said.
Currently, Sierra Leone has only 18 female MPs, and only four members of Bio’s 32-person cabinet are women. Minister of Gender and Children’s Affairs Manty Tarawalli commended the “groundbreaking” law, stating that it “will break the economic and political exclusion shackles for urban and rural women across the country.”