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Women in Sierra Leone

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Title: Women in Sierra Leone  
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Subject: Women in Africa, Women in government, Women in medicine, Women in the workforce, Women and agriculture in Sub-Saharan Africa
Collection: Sierra Leone, Sierra Leone Creole Organizations, Sierra Leonean Society
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Women in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone (Listen or ),[1] officially the Republic of Sierra Leone, is a Constitutional Republic in West Africa.[2] Since it was founded in 1787, the women in Sierra Leone have been a major influence in the political and economic development of the nation.

They have also played an important role in the education system, founding schools and colleges, with some such as Hannah Benka-Coker being honoured with the erection of a statue for her contributions[3] and Lati Hyde-Forster, first woman to graduate from Fourah Bay College being honored with a doctor of civil laws degree by the University of Sierra Leone.[4]


  • Early history (1787–1900) 1
  • 1900–1970 2
  • 1970 - Present 3
  • See also 4
  • References 5
  • External links 6

Early history (1787–1900)

Madam Lehbu, queen of Upper Gaura in 1891.

With the establishment of the Province of Freedom in 1787, a Sherbro known as Queen Yamacouba was a signatory to the treaty of 1787 which ceded the land to the British.[5] T J. Alldridge the first commissioner of Sierra Leone reported signing peace treaties with two women chiefs in 1889.[6]

The majority of repatriated women were of the Yoruba, the Yoruba were different from traditional African tribes in that men tended the fields which allowed the women to trade. This independence gave the woman freedom to travel and to divorce. Because they were financially independent they were able to divorce to improve their lives economically.[7]

From 1830, the women in Sierra Leone were well known for their trading of non-slave-related items.[8] A notable woman trader of the period was Betsy Carew who had married a butcher and sold meat to the army.[9]

In 1878, Madam Yoko became the Queen of Kpaa Mende Seneghum, which had become one of the largest political alliances within the interior. She also went to war against smaller tribes to increase her holdings.[10] In 1898 she supported the British during a rebellion, which also allowed her to expand her holdings. At the time of her death in 1906, her confederacy had become so large it had to be divided into 15 chiefdoms.[11]

The Krio female traders were predominantly Christian. They traded along the entirety of the West Coast expanding both their trade and spreading the Christian religion. However, by 1900 European companies began to dominate trade and the Krio moved to other professions such as medicine and teaching.[12]


Adelaide Casely Hayford on her wedding day

In the city of Freetown, before World War One a woman's position was decided on either class or ethnicity. The Krio people were the dominant ethnic group, with some having access to a better education, the wealthier families had their daughters sent to British finishing schools. The majority of Krio women however fell into the lower classes and their education usually did not go beyond elementary school level.[13]

In 1915, Adelaide Casely-Hayford played an important part regarding women's rights in Freetown giving a lecture on "The rights of Women and Christian Marriage". In 1923 she founded the "Girls Industrial and Technical Training School" with the aim to make women self-sufficient economically.[14] In 1930 women were given the right to vote, according to local lawyer J. C. Zizer this could be attributed to the numbers of women who now worked in the civil service where their employment terms were equal to their male counterparts.[14]

In 1938, Constance Cummings-John was the first woman in Africa to be elected to a municipal council and she was the first woman to be elected Mayor of Freetown. Her actions led to the formation of the Sierra Leone Market Women's Union and the Washerwoman's Union.[15] In 1952 she founded the Sierra Leone women's movement as well as a newspaper.[16] She founded the Eleanor Roosevelt Preparatory School for Girls and funded it from the proceeds of her quarrying business.[17]

In 1943, Frances Wright was called to the bar, becoming the first female lawyer in Sierra Leone, she was also given an appointment by the government as a magistrate.[18] She was a legal adviser to the British High Commission in Freetown and was considered a champion of women's rights.[19]

1970 - Present

In 1970, out of the 81 chiefdoms in Sierra Leone, 10 were led by women.[20]

In 1989, UNICEF reported that on average a woman in Sierra Leone worked up to 16 hours a day and that the majority were surviving on just one meal per day. There was a maternal mortality rate of 70% primarily from infections and malnutrition.[21]

A woman in a Sierra Leone village.

During the civil war(1991–2002), it is estimated that 33% of human rights violations were perpetrated against women. A report by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission stated that woman had suffered from "arbitrary detention, looting, destruction of property, assault, torture, forced labour, sexual abuse, amputation, forced recruitment, drugging, forced cannibalism, rape, sexual slavery and murder".[22] During the war women founded the Sierra Leone Women's Movement for Peace, and using peaceful protests attempted to mediate peace between the warring factions.[23][24]

On June 14, 2007, the Parliament of Sierra Leone passed three laws which made wife-beating illegal, allowing women to inherit property and to protect women from forced marriage.[25]

See also


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External links

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