Response to the Public Elections Act 2022 on Women’s Political Inclusion and Representation

The Yellow Ribbon Campaign coordinated by Campaign for Good Governance (CGG) and the Technical Committee Members note with keen interest the passage into Law of the Public Elections Act (PEA) 2022. While we observe that the law has suitable components, we wish to express several concerns. First, the Reserved Seats provision for Women was not carefully worded and due to Constitutional Amendments requirements was expunged from the PEA 2022. Second, whilst the Group celebrates the Approval of Clause 59 (2) which states that ‘For every 3 candidates nominated under subsection (1), one of them shall be female’, and as such could provide for a potential increase in Women’s Parliamentary Representation, it is nevertheless limited. This provision cannot in our opinion substitute for the Minimum 30% Quota Representation that women from all walks of life have been advocating for to advance their political, social, and cultural rights of inclusion and representation for the overall development of our society. Nomination does not guarantee election and unless purposive legislative provisions are enacted, women would continue to face the barriers inherent in a gender un-friendly electoral process.

In essence, Clause 59 (2) as approved in the Law risks creating a ceiling as it fails to state that at least, one of the nominated Candidates shall be female. It also remains unclear whether a party can nominate more than 33 per cent of women. There is no penalty clause for failure to comply with this provision. Additionally, nomination is not a guarantee for women to win parliamentary, council and other elective positions. This, therefore, needs further clarity as we implore Government to develop the regulations that will ensure enforcement of section 59 (2).

We also note that in the First Past the Post (FPTP) Electoral System the 30 per cent nomination of candidates does not necessarily translate into the minimum 30 percent representation as recommended by the Sierra Leone Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) of 2004. Women in growing parties and non-political party strongholds are less likely to benefit from this provision.

The Group is also concerned that the 12-month resignation requirement Provision for Public Servants to resign from Office still stands in the PEA 2022. Many election observers have viewed this provision as unreasonably long and pointless. Further, in practice, this provision has unduly affected women, particularly those that are prominent in the public social service sector, like education and who cannot resign a year to the Polls. We note that women constitute the highest percentage of the poverty bracket and considering the expensive nature of elections in our context, the continued existence of this provision will limit women’s participation.

Whilst we applaud the progress made so far, the Group calls on Parliament to give careful consideration to these limitations and reopen the debate on the Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment Bill to create room for Affirmative Action and Reserved Seats for Women as a temporary measure for Women’s political inclusion across the broad spectrum of governance, as the call for a minimum 30 per cent quota representation should not only be limited to female members of parliament. The group, therefore, calls on the government to integrate more women’s fundamental human rights into the Constitution as recommended by the CRC Report of 2016 and some of which were accepted by the government’s whitepaper on the said report.