CommentariesSummary: Sierra Leone National Gender Strategy Plan 2010-2013

Summary: Sierra Leone National Gender Strategy Plan 2010-2013

The National Gender Strategy Plan aims to achieve gender equality, particularly in legislation, participation, representation, empowerment and the distribution of resources. This begins with the realization that the social structures of Sierra Leone are intrinsically patriarchal. Hence, instead of simply inserting women into the existing structures, the Strategy Plan aims to redefine and restructure the existing social norms and institutions. Both men and women are expected to benefit from the programmes which are aimed at achieving better social welfare for all.

Vision and Mission: The Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s  Affairs (MSWGCA) envisions a Sierra Leone in which every citizen is treated with dignity, safe from all forms of violence and protected from violations of their basic political and socio-economic rights.  Its guiding principles include equality, equity, heterogeneity, affirmative action, representation/participation, economic empowerment and co-responsibility/partnership.

Background: Women in Sierra Leone face many forms of discrimination. Pervasive beliefs that women are incompetent, intimidation by male secret societies, poor negotiating skills and the inability to meet the financial demands of the electorate have led to the exclusion of women from decision making at all levels. Though a number of gender focused activities have been initiated over the years, no coordinated effort has been put in place.  Accordingly, in July 2008, the First Lady, together with the MSWGCA, began to develop a strategic plan. They consulted with stakeholders such as national and international NGOs, members of UN agencies including the Theme Group on Gender, local experts including researchers from the University of Sierra Leone and local community members. They also reviewed relevant legal and government documents, including annual action plans of various Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs), the national twin policies on the Advancement of Women (2000) and Gender Mainstreaming (2000), the Local Government Act 2004, the 1991 Constitution, the Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP), population reports, reports on gender based violence (GBV), and the three Gender Acts of 2007. Lastly, they reviewed international frameworks such as UNSCRs 1325 and 1820; Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), the Millennium Development Goals, the 1995 Beijing Platform, the African Union Declaration on Gender Equality and Development and the ECOWAS Protocols on Women and Development. The strategic plan aims to serve as a tool for efficient coordination of gender response programmes implemented by MDAs and to provide a framework for tracking government/donor policies and budgets on gender related programmes. The hope is to provide a strong advocacy and resource mobilization tool for effective gender programme delivery in Sierra Leone.

Contextual Analysis: Sierra Leone has a population of 4.9 million and gender ratio of 94 percent (for every 100 women there are 94 men).

Reproductive Rights: Maternal and infant mortality rates are among the highest in the world at 13 per 1,000 live births and 158 per 1,000 live births respectively. 267 out of every 1,000 children under 5 die per year. Contraceptive prevalence falls at 6 percent, while the country maintains a high fertility rate of 6.1 children per woman. Due to early and forced marriages, many young girls begin child bearing just after puberty and are thus exposed to many risks arising out of early childbirth. Women in both rural and urban settings face high levels of sexually transmitted diseases, for which they are constantly blamed. Lack of information about their condition prevents them from accessing services including information on how to protect themselves. 1.53 percent of women have HIV, while 4.4 percent of pregnant women carry the virus. Access to ante/post natal care is limited prompting women to resort to traditional sources of care and delivery.

Economic and Socio-cultural Situation: Early and forced marriages have also led to low education levels among females. Females account for 69 percent of primary school attendance, 37 percent of secondary school attendance and only 19 percent of attendances at the university. Due to the high rate of female illiteracy (73 percent) of women  shy away from holding positions of economic influence while 70 percent of rural women engage in subsistence farming. Though they account for 80 percent of food production, women lack control over the resources they generate. Women have also not benefitted from improved farming technologies to which only their male counterparts have access. Urban women dominate the lowest paying job sector because they lack the requisite education to move forward. Cultural beliefs perpetuate unequal gender relations where women are socialized to see themselves as inferior to men.

Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats (SWOT Analysis): MSWGCA identified several strengths, including a growing awareness of gender issues by members of the government and public, improved institutional and technical support for women’s organizations, and an emerging core of local academics and experts on gender issues in Sierra Leone. Weaknesses include insufficient sex disaggregated data for comprehensive gender analysis, lack of effective budgeting and coordination in the government on gender issues, the absence of a thorough understanding of the procedures necessary for implementing gender development plans and a lack of significant donor aid to promote delivery of gender services. Identified opportunities include the development of an emerging strong civil society, growing respect for democracy and human rights, relative political stability and the creation of a new directorate. Threats include the traditional patriarchic society, operation of a dual legal system that combines customary and statutory law, inadequate education, and high levels of poverty among women.

Strategic Direction: Recognizing it is not enough to simply open all programmes to men and women and the Strategic Plan outlines several initiatives focused on the advancement of women. It identifies six areas of priority:

Capacity Building, Management and Oversight: involves policy review on gender issues; developing a coordination mechanism for MSWGCA; monitoring MDAs; strengthening local councils, NGOs and CBOs; and developing a communication strategy to increase understanding of gender issues.  To address weak human and institutional capacity, MSWGCA will train legal officers, social workers and ministry staff as well as establish regional and sub regional offices. It will also advocate for the enforcement of the 2007 Gender and Child Rights Act as well as lobby for the prosecution of perpetrators of GBV. To mobilized donor support, MSWGCA will develop specific gender related proposals and train staff in M&E tools. Lastly, to build networks between policy makers and development partners, MSWGCA will send support staff for participation in international workshops and conferences.

Women’s Participation in Governance: includes promoting access to justice for women through information, education and communication; providing training and mentoring schemes for women to participate in decision making; advocating for 30 percent quota for women; and reviewing discriminatory clauses in the Constitution. MSWGCA will mobilize the community and create awareness among political leaders of the 30 percent quota. It will also advocate constitutional reform to include the 30 percent quota; develop training manuals for aspiring women; and train traditional/religious leaders on increased women’s participation in governance. In addition, MSWGCA will identify potential women for leadership positions, organize mentoring and experience sharing sessions, and train local councilors on national laws.

Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights: involves strengthening the National Committee on Gender Based Violence (NaC-GBV); promoting of women’s sexual and reproductive health rights (SRHR) by forming SRHR committees at all levels; establishing response mechanisms for GBV survivors (e.g., free medical treatment and legal services); strengthening partnerships to reduce women’s vulnerability to HIV; capacitating traditional birth attendants (TBAs) on SRHR and referral procedures; advocating for accessible health services in rural areas; lobbying for the inclusion of family planning in school curriculum; and advocating for the passage of a Sexual Offenses Act into law. To increase legal services for GBV survivors, MSWGCA will coordinate referral systems between healthcare providers and other support services, as well as raise awareness among local authorities about GBV and the services available. It will also advocate for media coverage of GBV to document violations and establish a proper database system for registering and tracking information on GBV. This includes developing a strategic relationship with Statistics Sierra Leone and civil society organizations to monitor GBV statistics and trends. To increase HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment, MSWGCA will collaborate with NAS and other AIDS response agencies as well as lobby the government to commit resources to reducing women’s vulnerability to HIV/AIDS. To reduce maternal and infant mortality rates, infant health care and delivery services will be increased; Manuals and training for safe motherhood practices in the healthcare system will also be provided.

Women’s Empowerment:

i.   Women and Education: includes institutionalizing awareness raising campaigns on the importance of girl child education; enforcing the provisions of the Child Rights Act 2007; institutionalizing scholarship schemes and enforcing free education policies for girls; instituting punitive action for men who impregnate young girls; campaigning on violence against girls; promoting and supporting functional literacy programmes for women in rural and urban areas; building capacity for women to participate in peace building and national security; and instituting mechanisms to improve rates of retention of girls in schools.

ii.  Women and Economic Empowerment: includes capacity building to enhance entrepreneurship skills of women; supporting Policy Advocacy and Training Programmes; building capacity to provide financial credit to women; and developing infrastructure to improve income through access to markets. To engender micro-finance policies, MSWGCA will work with MDAs and other stakeholders to sensitize them on gender issues collaborate with micro-finance and credit institutions to support loan schemes for women and establish networks for women in small and medium business enterprises.

iii. Women and Agriculture: includes policy formulation on women’s access control and ownership over land and productive resources; strengthening women’s farmers associations to claim their rights on access to land; providing, financial resources and infrastructure to enhance agriculture production for female farmers and training in improved technology. MSWGCA will also conduct baseline surveys on access to market for women and girls, educate women in nutritional practices and recruit extension officers to improve women’s benefit from their agricultural inputs.

Research, Documentation and ICT: includes building partnerships with Statistics Sierra Leone and national research institutions to analyze gender disaggregated data on a wide range of issues; strengthening information sharing between institutions engaged in gender advocacy; strengthening capacity to maximize use of information technology; developing a database using information sourced from Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS), Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys (MICS), the National Population and Housing Censuses; strengthening the Geographic Information System (GIS) to facilitate gender mapping and developing an ICT policy for women and researching/documenting GBV related issues at the national and district levels.

Gender Budgeting and Accountability: will include forming Gender Responsive Budgeting (GRB) Committees at all levels of government, building capacity of parliamentarians, city councils, district budget oversight committees, women’s organizations on GRB; advocating for allocation of resources for women’s empowerment initiatives and implementing a strong monitoring and evaluating framework for tracking progress.

Monitoring and evaluation: will take place at various levels. A separate M&E Unit will be established in the Gender Division. Implementing partners will communicate with the Programme Coordinator who will receive direction from the Minister or Permanent Secretary. The Permanent Secretary is responsible for signing implementation agreements, defining the M&E of projects, as well as submitting financial reports to the Minister for the attention of donors. The Director, in Collaboration with the Programme Coordinator, will ensure that deadlines are met and activities are implemented according to the plan and survey of the external environment to ensure that outputs remain relevant. The Programme officers will plan and conduct field monitoring visits and produce reports. The M&E staff will hold regular meetings with partners; develop work plans and performance appraisal guidelines; conduct monthly/quarterly field visits; develop a standard reporting format and provide technical support during project reviews. Implementing partners will work with the staff and the Directorate to develop work plans and an M&E system.

Issues likely to inhibit timely implementation of the programmes include lack of trained staff, inadequate logistics to popularize the plan, difficulty in breaking the socio-cultural barriers, low budgetary allocation to the ministry by the government and late disbursement of funds by donors.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 22 September 2010 14:47