Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

Women and Post-Conflict Society in Sierra Leone

Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

Women and Post-Conflict Society in Sierra Leone

Article excerpt

Abstract

Gender inequality in Sierra Leone, after colonialism among the worst in Sub- Saharan Africa, has been heightened further by the civil war of 1992-2002--which was related in part to the struggle for control of "blood diamonds" but also to long-standing social and regional disparities, and to collapse of formal institutions and widespread corruption. Sierra Leonean women are today among the most marginalized in the world, socially, economically and politically. However, there are differences among three groups: the better educated, comparatively richer "Krios" (descendants of the original freed slaves); relatively enlightened tribes; and the more traditional patriarchal tribes. The main route to improving the status of Sierra Leonean women is political empowerment. Some progress has been made since the civil war, post-conflict reconstruction programs and donor pressure are also opening up new opportunities for women progress, and there are hopes of significant electoral gains for women in the 2012 elections, inspired by the promising developments in neighboring post-conflict Liberia (which in 2005 elected Africa's first female president). However, sustainable advancement depends on alliances whereby the better-educated urban women exert pressure for solving concrete problems of poorer women in exchange for their political support. Although such alliances are difficult, new grassroots women organizations have achieved positive initial results, which can be consolidated and expanded by appropriate partnership with international women NGOs.

Keywords: Gender and development, Post-conflict reconstruction, African women.

"We'll kill you if you cry"

(From rebel soldiers to a gang-rape victim. Quoted in Human Rights Watch, 2003)

Sierra Leone: Political, economic and social background

The West African nation of Sierra Leone consists of 28,000 square miles, with over 6 million people, of whom an increasing number are in urban areas, and was created by the British as a haven for liberated African slaves (Creoles or "Krios") from the Bahamas, the United States, Nova Scotia and Great Britain, under similar conditions and motivations as the Americo-Liberians settled in neighboring Liberia under American auspices. In 1787, British philanthropists founded the "Province of Freedom" which later became Freetown, a British crown colony and the principal base for the suppression of the slave trade. By 1792, freed slaves from Nova Scotia joined the original settlers, the Maroons, and were joined by another group of slaves from Jamaica in 1800. The colonial status of Sierra Leone was that of a "multiple dependency," (Hailey, 1957), consisting of both a Colony and a Protectorate. (3) Among the architects of the Colony were men such as William Wilberforce, Thomas Clarkson and Granville Sharpe, and Lord Mansfield who formed an administration in 1806, which was instrumental in the British Empire's abolition of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade in 1807. In 1808 Sierra Leone officially became a crown colony with the land possessions of Sierra Leone Company (formerly known as St George's Bay Company) transferred to the crown.

While Creoles were dominant in Freetown, the territory's indigenous African inhabitants were in the hinterland--thus establishing the Freetown/upcountry divide, which remains to this day. Almost from the beginning the colony was characterized by stratified gendered cultural and educational divisions consisting of the dominant Creoles in Freetown, the inhabitants of the Protectorate consisting of indigenous Africans, and groups arriving from the Upper Niger region. These differences have endured, and will be discussed further. The article thus, examines the position of different groups of women within the social structure of Sierra Leone and the main reasons for their subordinate status which is only now beginning to change.

The country gained independence in 1961, and is today a constitutional republic with a directly elected president under a unicameral legislature. …

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