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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.

Note on the Author

Hazel M. McFerson is Professor of Public and International Affairs at George Mason University, which she joined in 1991. She previously taught at several universities in the U.S. and abroad, and has extensive experience in development assistance, including as Social Science Program Officer at USAID in Somalia. The author or co-author of four books and some 20 articles in development, ethnicity and international politics, her many awards include a Fulbright Fellowship, under which she taught at the University of Asia and the Pacific in Manila.

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