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Meet Blessing, an Equality Activist from Sierra Leone

Girls' Rights

“Women had been sidelined, but now they’re on the frontline of politics”.

Blessing has just turned 17 years old, and she has already helped pass a new law in her country. She has been involved in advocacy, campaigning and activism for some time, motivated by improving the rights of girls and women in Sierra Leone. It is her dream to one day become a lawyer and maybe even the President.

Studying linguistics at university in her capital city, Freetown, she explains how together with a large network of campaigners, she lobbied the government. Much of this work took place through social media, as the country moves to a technological age and more and more people in Sierra Leone are getting their information online.

“Advocacy is not just something I put my heart into to get myself seen, but a passion I have had from a very young age. That is why I strive very hard, even in school, to get a leadership position. I have seen how boys have a lesser regard for females, so I’ve taken that up as my responsibility to empower other girls, but also, I want to be a role model. I involved myself in advocacy and I’m someone that likes to stand up for others. I take it very seriously, girls have so much potential, but they’re not giving the platform to exhibit this potential.

“That is why I stood up as a middle person, between society and girls and young women in my country, because I’m ready to let them see what we have as females. To let society know what we can contribute and to show each and every person out there in the world that there must be no discrimination or less regard for females. It is not right and it is not an image we should encourage.”

Blessing campaigning
Blessing, 17, rallies girls at She Leads project meeting in Freetown.

On the International Day of the Girl 2022, Blessing and some of her peers took over the Sierra Leonean Parliament. They used the moment to raise the Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment (GEWE) Bill.  The GEWE Bill aims to improve the broader socio-economic conditions for women and increase representation for women in Sierra Leone. It aims to reserve 30% of elective and public office positions for women, including one constituency seat in every district for female candidates on a rotational basis.

It also pushes to introduce gender responsive budgeting, ensuring equal access to finance. The bill was originally put forward in 2012 but was blocked. On the 15th November 2022, a month after Blessing and her peers raised it, it was passed into law, signed by the President.

“We also had provisions in the act which catered for the protection of women in their workplaces. The act does not only focus on women in politics, that is one aim of it, but it is also focusing on how safe women can be, because as women, when we know that we are safe, then we can occupy so many more spaces.

As a result of the GEWE Bill, Sierra Leone’s most recent elections, held in June 2023, saw an increase from 17 to 41 women selected by the president into Parliamentary Posts. Blessing credits the bill with encouraging more female contestants to follow their political aspirations:

“Women were hiding at the back of the room, they did not have the confidence to step out, to step up. So the acts that we have now is safeguarding the future for us, the girls, and has already made the safe space for women in children to involve themselves in politics and leadership.”

Blessing credits her peers, the Children’s Forum Network (an initiative created by school students, aimed at protecting and empowering children), and the opportunity to work alongside Plan International Sierra Leone, with giving her the space and opportunity to highlight the GEWE bill and make what she has been advocating for a reality.

“I was actually sitting on the seat of the top position inside the Parliament where, you know, one hardly sits there.  So it was just an amazing experience for me. I felt so accomplished, and I felt that the hard work, the late nights where I had to do research, where and I had to prepare myself well and I had to overcome the phobias I had.

“It did not go to waste. We’re celebrating something that we worked hard for. Advocacy and activism is a passion that lives in me, and I’ll do it to the end. I’m so concerned about human rights, I’m someone that is concerned of people being given justice. As well as gender equality and female empowerment there is child advocacy as well. Activism, campaigning, and advocacy is something I’ll never let go of. I’ll always do it, even as a grown up, even as an old lady in the future.”

Blessing out campaining

Blessing was invited to share her experience of activism in New York at the Commission on the Status of Women, to discuss the status of women around the world; “I was the youngest there, I was 16 and every person was about 20 or above. I learnt a lot.The interesting thing is I went there for one session, but I got involved in so many side events, some concerning and the rights of girls, others related to sexual and reproductive health, others related to online safety and child protection. I learned a lot and I was ready to implement it in my country because I’m ready to train other girls. I’m going to work very, very hard to make sure that I must get a leadership position where I can stand up and stand my guns, very firmly for the empowerment of girls and young women in my country.”

Firmly optimistic about the future of female representation in politics, Blessing says “Women had been sidelined, but now they’re on the frontline of politics. So definitely, I am quite sure and I am certain that there’s going to be an increase in female representation, not only in Parliament but in government offices and private sectors all around the country.”