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Cablegate: Honoring Women's Political Participation in Sierra Leone

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RR RUEHMA RUEHPA
DE RUEHFN #0030/01 0221516
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R 221516Z JAN 08
FM AMEMBASSY FREETOWN
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INFO RUEHZK/ECOWAS COLLECTIVE

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SUBJECT: HONORING WOMEN'S POLITICAL PARTICIPATION IN SIERRA LEONE


1. Summary: Following presidential and parliamentary elections in
2007, a committee led by two NGOs -- Search for Common Ground and
Enhancing Interaction and Interface Between Civil Society and the
State to Improve Poor People's Lives (ENCISS) -- convened a 2-day
symposium, The Honoring Women Initiative January 3-4 to honor the
efforts of women from throughout Sierra Leone who participated in
the elections as candidates and political activists. The symposium
was designed to encourage participation in the upcoming July 2008
local elections and was supported by Embassy and USAID. The First
Lady of Sierra Leone presided at the event. She was joined by the
President at the closing to honor the many women who were active in
civil society and who had competed for political office. Competed
surveys by attendee reflected a renewed energy and commitment to
women's political participation in Sierra Leone. The challenge will
be to carry the positive momentum forward to improve women's
political engagement. End Summary.

2. With funding and support from Irish Aid, the National Democratic
Institute (USAID funded), Search for Common Ground (USAID funded),
DFID, Oxfam, UNIOSIL and other local NGOs, the symposium started
with an acknowledgement of the need to celebrate the efforts of
women who stood for office in 2007 and stressed the importance of
increasing women's' political participation to ensure the rights,
protection and improvement of the role of women in Sierra Leone.
The First Lady chaired the opening event, and speakers including the
Minister for President Affairs, Alpha Kanu speaking on behalf of
President Koroma, UNIOSIL Officer in Charge Hagoss Gebremehdin,
Search for Common Ground Director Ambrose James and the Charge.

Developing the Symposium Agenda

3. The initial impetus for the symposium began with a discussion,
hosted at the Embassy, of the need to recognize and honor National
Elections Chair Dr. Christiana Thorpe for her personal courage and
leadership in ensuring a successful outcome for the 2007 national
elections. As Minister Kanu noted, the Sierra Leone electoral
outcome could have been a shambles "but for the grace of God and
Christiana Thorpe." Not only was Dr. Thorpe recognized for her
unswerving commitment to free and fair elections, but, she became a
symbol for all Sierra Leoneans of the vital role women must play in
the country's future. From that that initial desire to honor her
historic contribution, grew a symposium to increase women's
participation in governance by recognizing and honoring women
political activists and candidates who play a vital role in their
communities and were particularly active during the elections. The
outcomes of the symposium were to encourage increased women's
participation in the 2008 local elections, honor the contribution of
women in the electoral process, foster solidarity among women's
networks, and engage government on priority issues for women in
Sierra Leone.

4. Frances Fortune, Director of Search for Common Ground Africa and
Jeannette Eno, Director of ENCISS, conceived and developed the
symposium agenda. Jeannette Eno led the coordinating committee to
include key civil society Sierra Leonean women activists, NGOs and
international partners. The U.S. Embassy and USAID participated in
the steering committee and provided material support.

Impressive Participation Honors and Spurs the Women's Agenda

5. The symposium was attended by over 300 women from all districts
of Sierra Leone and included among them many successful and
unsuccessful political candidates in the national elections. The
seminars, presented by local and international political activists
including Dr. Christiana Thorpe covered topics ranging from Women in
Peace and Security to Decision Making at the Local and National
Levels. The closing ceremony, chaired by First Lady Sia Koroma with
President Koroma, included the presentation of awards to all women
candidates from the 2007 elections. Three political activists from
each of Sierra Leone's districts were also singled out for their
community commitment to improving the lives of those around them.
Honorees included civil society activists, health care providers,
teachers, agriculturists, peace activist, entrepreneurs, micro
enterprise developers, performers, and artists. The event also
honored current and former women government ministers.

6. Although the event will not be annual, the organizers intend for
the symposium to be a jumping-off point for future engagement and
interaction among women around the country, particularly in the lead
up to the local elections. The event encouraged networking, sharing
of ideas, and solidarity. Sustaining that momentum through the
process and beyond will be an important goal for the Embassy and
USAID electoral support. Ongoing programs will help to build on
networks developed at the symposium. USAID, through NDI, IFES and
Search for Common Ground, is already working to translate the
women's local election Action Plans into concrete initiatives,

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hopefully resulting in a significant increase in new women local
government officers.

PERRY

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
 
 
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