A crash course in changing the world.
We have come so far from the first “Let our voices be heard” conference ten years ago. In Koinadugu, back in 2010, the Women’s Learning Partnership http://www.learningpartnership.org began helping to train women to work in partnership; to acquire and utilize the skills and strategies to expand and protect their human rights; and to contribute to the infrastructure and development of their own communities. Search for Common Ground (SFCG) trainers and mentors assisted women in identifying problems, challenges, and shared success stories in how to overcome them, beginning with a two-day exchange within Sierra Leone for International Women’s Day in March, 2009.
Through networking, increased education, increased decision-making in their homes, increased economic empowerment and, increasingly, in politics, women in Koinadugu are taking their place to help steer the course of secure and sustainable development in Sierra Leone. http://www.sfcg.org/programmes/sierra/sierra_kokai.html
In 2008, no female had been elected in Koinadugu; in Koinadugu and Kailahun districts, political parties fought for pre-eminence, and marginalized potential women voters, fearful that power would be taken away from the men. http://allafrica.com/stories/200903100412.html
Koinadugu, as elsewhere in Sierra Leone, had set up political rules of party membership, donations, attendance, tax-paying, which precluded many women from participating.
However, with the assistance and training from programs such as Oxfam, SFCG, and the USAID-funded Promoting Agriculture Governance and the Environment (PAGE) program, the women of Koinadugu became small-holder farmers, provided with seed money through the Howard G. Buffett Foundation. Operation SEED volunteers also led training and resilient gardening projects designed to maximize available fresh and greywater usage, inter-crop plantings, and new rice-cultivation techniques. The women mobilized community organizations and inter-district support networks with female peers throughout Sierra Leone and Western Africa.
Urging their husbands that women be allowed to pay taxes in their own names, Koinadugu women became politically resilient. ENCISS (http://www.enciss-sl.org/) worked to decrease poverty and strengthen community interface and government capacities with a focus on ensuring human rights.
NGO and partner organizations such as the “Hajj for Humanity” foundation worked with the Muslim-majority communities to help build infrastructure, security (food, water, energy, education, environment, etc) in cooperation with the newly-mobilized women’s groups, community religious advisors, Shari’a law advisors, and activists and leaders from Koinadugu and neighboring Kailahun District and Tongo Fields.
In March, 2010, the Koinadugu Women’s Vegetable Farmers’ cooperative delivered its first-ever consignment of rice, purchased by the UN World Food Program, to be distributed throughout Sierra Leone for school meal programs. (Source: UN World Food Program, 15 March, 2010) http://www.reliefweb.int/rw/rwb.nsf/db900SID/EGUA-83KP6S?OpenDoc**ent
Last month, March, 2020, SFCG held its 11th-annual conference for International Women’s Day, mobilizing women entrepreneurs and community leaders to attend the District political rallies. And, in a landslide vote, Koinadugu elected its first female Representative to the Sierra Leone National Assembly. Local radio and television stations reported on the National Representative, joining her female and male local Council counterparts, as they inspected the new water-treatment and recycling facilities, and oversaw the delivery of yet another bountiful crop of P4P program vegetables and grains, now organically-produced, from sustainable plant and seed stocks.
And today, April 11, 2020, we come together with community elders and leaders, and all the families: men, women, children, celebrating with traditional songs, dances, and the Woronanie (the giving of four cola nuts in water—a sign of appreciation and friendship). There is still much to be done in this arid district, but Koinadugu, 2020, is a far journey from the post-war deprivation and poverty, disenfranchisement and subjugation of women that marked its daily life in 2010.