A Women’s March In Sierra Leone

May 10, 2017

Our Director, Josephine Carlsson, writes: “Recently, I marched through a town supporting women’s rights. It was not one of the marches you would have seen in the news the last few months, and tiny compared to the ones that took place in London or NYC.

It took place in Makeni, Sierra Leone, and we walked in our hundreds, all involved in a Feed the Minds’ project with a specific focus on setting up cooperatives to empower women in the area.

Many of the women had walked long distances from their villages in the morning to congregate and begin the march. It’s hot season in Sierra Leone, with daytime temperatures reaching 40 degrees during the day, so walking for several miles to reach the starting point and then march more than 5 km would only ever happen for a very important reason.

Why we march

The placards on display called for women to be respected, for equal access to education, and an end to violence against women. The reality for the women in the cooperatives set up by the project is harsh – most of them have not had access to education due to the civil war and/or poverty and the majority of them were not able to read and write when the project started. Poverty levels are astonishingly high in this area, and the recent Ebola epidemic halted much of the development of small businesses since markets had to close for a long time. Other women were widowed or suddenly had to take care of children who were orphaned by the epidemic. Gender violence is a real and very serious issue in the women’s lives and men traditionally make all the decisions in the family. In this area polygamous marriages are quite common, and women were not used to working together and supporting each other, but instead just be told what to do by their husbands.

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People of all ages joined the march.

Making an impact

So the project itself has made a huge difference. It is supporting women to form cooperatives, grow new crops that will give them increased income and training in more efficient methods. But just meeting other women and together stand up for their rights is also a major factor in for the women taking part, and has already increased their self-esteem. Many of the participants in the march took the opportunity to register to vote in the next elections when they were in town. One woman told me:

“I will not give up until I register (she had already tried several times since the machine issuing the ID card did not work the first few times) since being registered makes me a Sierra Leonean – it is really important to me.” One Secretary in one of the cooperatives was encouraged by the other women to stand for local election – she might, now when she has the support from a lot of the women in her community. And it would have been something that not even had crossed her mind before.

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The march was led by women from the community.

Another woman explained the impact of the project as:

“Decisions in my family do not come as a surprise any longer.” – through being a member of the cooperative, have her own income enabling her to pay for the children’s food and school fees has she given her a new status and she gets more respect from the men in her family. She will be consulted and her daughters as well as her sons are going to school.

It is still a long way to go, but the women marching in Makeni are steadily gaining confidence and will not give up easily. They were such an inspiration that I managed to walk the whole distance without feeling tired on this very hot day!”

Another group of women we have been supporting.
Another group of women we have been supporting.