Promoting Gender Equality is key to the implementation of UNDP’s programs and its operationalisation in Sierra Leone. The country has a Gender Inequality Index-GII value of 0.644, ranking it 153 out of 162 countries in the 2018 Index. Sierra Leone 2015 Housing and Population Survey and other studies indicated that more women than men are unemployed, poor, illiterate and are sexually assaulted. The country has some of the worse forms of Gender Based Violence in rural and urban communities. Structural gaps and systemic barriers have worsened the conditions and position of women and girls in the country, deepening the gender gap and poverty in the country.
To understand the drivers and the structural gaps of these inequalities, UNDP consulted groups of women and men in hard to reach communities that are impoverished in Sierra Leone. A cross section of UNDP Gender Focal Team (GFT), led by the Gender Analyst, Kadiatu Bachalle-Taylor engaged district stakeholders (chiefs, district councils, women and youth groups, and persons with disabilities, to garner information from community groups in Kailahun, Kambia, Bonthe and Falaba Districts
Focus Group Discussions (FGDs) made up 10 participants per group were held in all targeted districts to further understand the new trends and patterns of gender inequality and the drivers contributing to gender inequalities at household level. The GFT also conducted Key Informant Interview with duty bearers to understand the challenges faced in addressing gender inequality from districts to community levels and accentuate opportunities that UNDP could maximise and challenges that need to be addressed within UNDP programmes in Sierra Leone.
Our FGDs revealed many gender issues that bother on both governance and sustainable livelihood and economic development - revealing that even though women are the ones largely involved in doing some small scale trading in rural communities and farming to sustain their families, yet, they (women) don’t determine how their moneys are being spent; that most of the women and girls in the communities are single parents who are widowed, adolescent mothers and teenage pregnant girls that have dropped out of school with no trading or technical vocational skill; that there is higher prevalence of Gender Based Violence (GBV) within rural communities. In Kailahun, Kambia and in Bonthe, it was revealed that the lack of schools in villages around chiefdom headquarter town, pornographic videos and compromise of SGBV cases have contributed to the increase in SGBV; most business women iterated that they have lost their initial capital owing to restrictions set by councils and the government, among others.
In Kukuna, Kambia District, 15 years Mbalu was taken from school and betrothed to her husband when she was less than 15 years old. She was engaged to her partner because her parents were poor and come from Muslim background that prefers to give their daughters hand in marriage. At 25, she is a widow with three children. Mbalu is not educated and has no other skills. She survives by taking some goods from other businesswomen ‘gbarrah’ (native language meaning ‘to take’) to sell and make some profit to run her household. Having lost his brother in law and his wife, Mbalu now suckles her young baby child and children left behind by wife of her brother in law. Mbalu’s story amplifies an outburst of gender stories in rural Sierra Leone that should be taking into consideration as we develop the UNDP GES to ‘whether the storm’- to reach the end of a very difficult situation without too much harm or damage. According to Mbalu, she is hopeful that the new UNDP National Gender Equality Strategy would resonates with women and girls who have suffered the heavy handedness of SGBV.
Information derived from community engagements and FGDs together with stakeholder consultations, and UNDP Staff Survey, informed drafting of UNDP's Gender Equality Strategy for 2021 to 2023. UNDP held the consultations in Freetown with key Implementing Partners from various Ministries Departments and Agencies (MDAs) to ensure alignment with Government priorities in the Medium-Term National Development Plan. Drawn from the 2018-2021 Global Gender Equality Strategy, the ensuing National Gender Equality Strategy (2021-2023) will be rolled out consistent with UNDP Sierra Leone 2021-2023 Country Programme Document (CPD) which succeeded its 2016-2019 Country Programme Document (CPD).
Consistent with Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 5, our next Gender Equality Strategy intends to maximize emerging opportunities that respond directly to gender challenges and would not caste a slue to the earnest contributions our gender lenses have made glaring, but, delineates the UNDP commitment to:
- Strengthen UNDP interventions tackling structural changes that accelerate gender equality and women’s empowerment;
- Strengthen the integration of gender equality into UNDP's work on the environment, energy and crisis response and recovery;
- Better align UNDP programming with the centrality of gender equality and women’s empowerment to the achievement of sustainable development; and
- Build upon institutional mechanisms for gender mainstreaming such as the Gender Equality Seal and the Gender Marker, which provide measurable standards and incentives to drive development progress.
It’s time to act and act Now!