"Women rely considerably on the guidance and assistance that the United Nations, in its many forms, provides. SCR 1325 can only be successful if the Security Council is proactive in the use of the resolution in their work. As such, the onus is on you here in New York, to cast your light on the path we follow. Our failure is your failure. Our successes are your successes."- Barbara Bangura, National Coordinator, Grassroots Empowerment for Self Reliance (GEMS), Sierra Leone
GEMS at meeting with women and youth
In Sierra Leone like most parts of Africa and Asia, gender inequality is still endemic and women, in many ways, remain the most vulnerable group in society. They are less educated, have less access to decision making, have fewer jobs and less wealth than men, suffer severe cases of poverty and their human rights are often violated. They have always lived on the margins of society and face discrimination and subordination in every aspect of their lives. As a result, they remain heavily under-represented in the political and socio-economic structures of Sierra Leone even though they make up more than half the population. 51% of Sierra Leone’s population is female yet only 15.2% of the country’s parliament is comprised of women. This is a key concern to Grassroots Empowerment for Self Reliance (GEMS) who is working towards achieving optimal human rights for all and the empowerment of women in their country and in Africa. GEMS seek to promote the dignity and respect of all women and see community rural women as key to a sustainable future. It envisions “a Sierra Leonean society characterised by political, social and economic empowerment of women and a change in public attitude that will ensure grassroots women enjoy peace and security, with respect for their rights."
GEMS is a national women’s NGO that was formed in 1998 in Sierra Leone in response to the hardships face by women as a result of the ten year rebel war which had ravaged communities and inflicted untold atrocities on women and children country wide. Its mission is to build the capacity of specifically grassroots women thereby empowering them to become self reliant and participate in decision making processes. It works to achieve its vision and mission through capacity building and advocacy for changes to existing systems and structures that prevent the advancement of women.
GEMS coordinator at quota orientation meeting
GEMS with headquarters are in Freetown addresses challenges faced by women by implementing the following programs:
- Training Programs on Leadership Skills, Human Rights, Communication, Networking, Advocacy, Adult Education and Micro Credit Schemes
- Awareness raising campaigns on issues affecting rural community women
- Advocacy on women’s rights to peace and security in accordance with CEDAW and UNSCR 1325
- Income Generation & Food Security through community based revolving Micro Credit and Agricultural schemes
GEMS as an activist organization offering training on multiple topics to rural community women with a human rights unit that addresses human rights violations such as domestic violence. Its accomplishments include a Torture Victims Support Project, a 2-year HIV/AIDS Orphans Project, a 3-year Adult Literacy/Education for Life Project, an Awareness raising project on the rights of the child as stated in the CRC, Awareness raising on Women’s Inheritance Rights in Sierra Leone, Training on Active Non Violence a 2-year project on Grassroots Empowerment for Self Reliance by Rural Community Women, Advocacy and Law Reforms Campaigns and a women led Violence Free Elections Campaign.
GEMS supports the argument that a higher number of women in parliament and local council will contribute to stronger focus on women’s issues. Failing to eliminate gender inequality in governance has and will continue to have long-term consequences on the development of the country. The exclusion of women from decision-making structures adds to the problems that many Sierra Leonean women face, such as extreme poverty, ill health, less education, sexual and gender based violence etc. 2012 is elections year and GEMS’ focus on governance has influenced its strategic plan which focuses on governance as a peace and security issue for women. The organisation is currently focusing specifically on increasing women’s participation in politics and other areas of decision making in Sierra Leone and is leading the advocacy campaign in Sierra Leone to advocate for the enactment of a quota law through Parliament.
The organization realises that for the call for an increase in women in politics to succeed there has to be an enabling environment and is therefore implementing a one year project to advocate for violence free elections in Sierra Leone. Their violence free elections report is extensive and touches on pre and post elements of election time. As part of the project, the NGO has created community advocacy groups in all fourteen districts with public education campaigns about the elections on radios.
Barbara Bangura (Coordinator of GEMS) also coordinates the Women’s Solidarity Support Group (WSSG) which is a network of women’s organisations and activists, that is currently working on a national campaign to support real and significant change in the situation of women in Sierra Leone. It uses an activist approach that seeks to build solidarity and leverage presenting opportunities to advance the cause of women’s rights in Sierra Leone. It seeks to maximise opportunities such as the constitutional review process, the forthcoming 2012 elections, the free health care policy, international commitments to the advancement and participation of women and create the space for women to fully realise their rights. GEMS shares the view that with more women in decision making, they will be able to influence policies and collectively advance the cause of women in Sierra Leone.
Women MPs in Sierra Leone
Despite their countless successes, like any organization there are challenges. Some of GEMS main obstacles are access to capacity building for staff and volunteers, an effective monitoring and evaluation framework and institutional support. They are also concerned about the emerging trend of political violence including rape, irresponsible politicking by political parties , the distraction of being branded as partisan in trying to advance the cause of women, dynamic donor relations and inadequate donor resources. If you have suggestions or resources for GEMS, please contact Barbara Bangura.
In the next coming months, GEMS and partners will be taking the draft Gender Equality Bill to Parliament for it to be enacted into law. GEMS will develop training manuals and hold workshops for the violence free elections Community Advocacy Groups and will be producing non-violent campaign materials as part of their advocacy for peaceful elections in Sierra Leone. We are as convinced as you are that there is nothing these women can’t do and we here at MEWC wish them the best of luck with their projects and hope for a peaceful 2012 elections with increased female participation.
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