Supporting Women to Aspire to Election to Political Office in Sierra Leone: The experience of the PACER project | Elections | Voting

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The Promoting a Culture of Equal Representation (PACER) project is implemented jointly by the 50/50 Group of Sierra Leone and Oxfam GB, and is co-funded by DFID and UNDEF. It contributes to the Government of Sierra Leone’s efforts to reduce marginalisation and vulnerability by developing a culture of equal representation and participation of women and men in political life and development processes and initiatives. The project has been highly participatory. In order to achieve its aims without creating friction with traditional governance systems and culture, PACER has involved all key stakeholders and has worked with existing social networks. PACER demonstrated tangible success at the 2007 and 2008 elections. It supported seven of the 16 elected women parliamentarians and 291 women local council aspirants in the districts of Kailahun and Koinadugu. Of these, 31 were nominated as candidates and nine were eventually elected. This case study highlights the key lessons coming out of the PACER project so far and identifies areas that can be strengthened in future.
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  Supporting women to aspire to election to political office in Sierra LeoneThe experience of the PACER project  Background Sierra Leone is located between Guinea and Liberia on the West African coast and has an estimated 6.2 million inhabitants. It is a resource-rich country but has been affected by over a decade of civil war and ranks last of the 177 countries on the Human Development Index. Nearly 45 per cent of its population is aged 14 and under and at around 30 per cent, literacy rates are among the lowest in the world. Life expectancy at birth is just over 41 years; estimates of HIV prevalence vary but it could be as high as seven per cent. The civil war, which ended in mid-2002, created a large internally displaced population, destroyed infrastructure, hindered development efforts and threatened social cohesion. The impact of the war is still felt and, although the country is unlikely to slip back into conflict, violence is still occasionally used as a means of expression. The electoral system Sierra Leone’s first post-war presidential and parliamentary elections were announced days after the ending of hostilities in 2002 and took place that same year. Parliamentary elections take place every five years and use a constituency-based, first-past-the-post system, although amendments were put in place for the 2002 elections. There are 112 elected seats in parliament and an additional twelve seats allocated to Paramount Chiefs (traditional leaders).At local level, each of the thirteen districts and six major towns has an elected local council. Each district is divided into wards and each ward has a seat on the council. Candidates representing the different political parties contest this seat and the candidate with the most votes wins. In addition to the elected seats, between one and three Paramount Chiefs sit on each council and have voting rights. The first post-war local council elections were in 2004 and they take place every four years.A decentralisation policy was followed in the post-war period and was seen as an important step in peace building. However, local councils had been abolished in 1972 and at the time of the 2004 elections there was little public understanding of their purpose and function. As a result, voter registration and turnout were low – far lower than at the parliamentary elections. The Local Government Act of 2004 was ratified after the elections. It sets out the requirement for ward development committees, the administrative level below the district or town council, to be made up of ten elected positions - five women and five men – and the Paramount Chief and councillor. These committees provide the link between the local council and communities. Political parties in Sierra Leone Political power is shared largely, and increasingly exclusively, between the All People’s Congress (APC) and the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP). The APC enjoys a stronghold in the north, while the SLPP is predominant in the south and east. Ten parties of varying size competed the 2002 elections, including the newly formed Revolutionary United Force Party (RUFP) - the political branch of the rebel forces - but most of these parties failed to gain any seats in parliament. An SLPP breakaway group, the People’s Movement for Democratic Change (PMDC), competed in the 2007 elections. A new trend noticed at the 2008 elections was for candidates who were not nominated as their party’s official candidate to run as independent candidates. In the increasingly partisan political environment, these independent candidates are perceived as threatening to divert votes from the main political parties, which has resulted in negative campaigning and violence against them. The 50/50 office at Kailahun  Traditional governance Traditional governance structures also play an important role in Sierra Leonean society. The country is split into numerous chieftaincies, each headed by a Paramount Chief. These structures are largely male-dominated: in the north, no woman has ever been a Paramount Chief and only a handful of women have become chiefs in the southern districts. Both men’s and women’s secret societies are prevalent throughout the country, although women’s secret societies exercise little power on the political system. The chiefs are key figures in male secret societies. Membership, initiation and traditions are all subject to strict secrecy but it is widely acknowledged that the societies have a strong influence on politics. Women in the political arena In the months before the 2002 parliamentary elections, women were optimistic about their chances. Women’s groups had played a strong role in bringing peace to the country by engaging opposing factions and mobilising around a pro-democracy movement and there seemed to be a general acceptance of women’s involvement in public life. The elections were carried out under a constitutional amendment that took into account the post-conflict situation. The war had caused large population movements and skewed the population distribution. A District Block Voting System was used, effectively a proportional representation system, which has been seen to benefit women candidates in many countries. However, despite this, only 18 women gained seats in the 2002 parliament, just over 14 per cent.The majority vote system was reinstated in 2007. Once again, women had high expectations but a return to the first-past-the-post system seriously hampered their chances. The number of women parliamentarians fell to 17.At the 2004 local council elections, women won 48 of the 474 local council seats. Women generally fared better in urban areas, though outcomes were extremely varied. Kailahun recorded the highest number of women elected to a district council, with eight seats or 24 per cent. Koinadugu was the lowest, with no elected women. In 2008, the number of women councillors almost doubled to 86 (18.9 per cent), with particularly notable increases in urban areas.Political parties have agreed to an informal quota system for increasing the number of women candidates but there are no sanctions for non-compliance and there is no evidence to suggest that parties are attempting to meet this goal. Meanwhile, the women’s movement is weakening, there is little collaboration between women’s groups and no common strategy for awareness raising and mobilisation on women’s rights across the country. There is no functioning women’s caucus for elected women and the reliance on political parties for election and support prevents attempts at cross-party activity to promote women’s rights. The PACER project Sierra Leonean women are disproportionately affected by poverty and are also marginalised at all levels of decision-making. The Promoting A Culture of Equal Representation (PACER) project aims to address this by increasing the involvement of women in the political process. Its premise is that a greater number of women in parliament and local government will directly contribute to a positive change in the lives of poor men and women. Oxfam GB has been working in partnership with the 50-50 Group of Sierra Leone. PACER’s main goal has been to increase the number of women contesting and winning seats in two districts, Koinadugu and Kailahun, at the 2007 parliamentary and 2008 local council elections. PACER has motivated women to aspire to leadership positions, worked directly with woman aspirants and candidates to support them through the nomination and election process, and raised awareness of the importance of women’s leadership among voters and key power brokers. Training at the Kailahun officesCar sticker promoting women’s representation  PACER has seen notable success in Koinadugu, which has the reputation for being the most conservative district in Sierra Leone. Koinadugu fielded its first-ever female parliamentary candidate in 2007 and now has six women on the district council. This represents a significant step forward and certainly compares favourably with other non-urban councils.Meanwhile, there has been a disappointing drop in women’s representation in Kailahun, where it had been hoped that the project would build on the gains made in 2004. The district now has only one woman parliamentarian and three councillors. The reasons for this relate largely to changes in the political arena and are explored in more detail later. However, the project has achieved far more than the numbers would suggest.However, following the 2007 general elections and the 2008 local council elections, there has been a shift in positions. There has been a disappointing drop in women’s representation in Kailahun, where it had been hoped that the project would build on the gains made in 2004. The district now has only one woman parliamentarian and three councillors. Meanwhile Koinadugu, which has the reputation for being the most conservative district in Sierra Leone, fielded its first-ever female parliamentary candidate in 2007, although she was not elected, and six women have been elected to the district council. The percentage of female representation remains below the national average but still represents a significant step forward and certainly compares favourably with other non-urban councils. This booklet examines the reasons for this change, and identifies both the barriers to women’s political participation as well as the positive effects of the PACER programme. The PACER approach In the run up to the 2007 parliamentary elections and the 2008 local council elections, PACER’s work focused on increasing the number of women representatives in its two target districts.It did this both by working directly with woman aspirants and candidates, to support them through the election process, and by raising awareness of the importance of women’s leadership   Steps to successful mobilisation of women in the 2008 local council elections ã The PACER project started by developing an understanding of the national and local socio-political and cultural contexts. ã The project team identied key power brokers and potential allies: Paramount Chiefs, chiefdom speakers, teachers, religious leaders, traders, party activists and local women’s groups. ã These stakeholders helped to identify potential women aspirants and encourage women to stand for election. ã Trainers were trained with PACER-developed materials. They went on to train the group of aspirants through exercises that educated and built confidence and solidarity amongst the women. Activities included role-plays, group activities and games, and self-reflection. ã Aspirants who decided to stand as candidates were supported through the nomination process with further education and training. ã Successful candidates attended workshops that enabled them to build a strong campaign, work on their strengths and recognise their weaknesses and the barriers against them. ã PACER worked with women’s groups and other stakeholders to mobilise support for these women candidates. Campaigns often included voter education programmes in the constituencies, and contributed to a sense of solidarity amongst women. Showing support for women candidates
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