There are many countries around the world with a problematic history of filled with systemic human rights abuses, but every once in a while leaders go out on a limb to chart a better future.
That appears to be the case with Sierra Leone President Julius Maada Bio.
A public apology
As with any legitimate vow to make up for past wrongs, Bio’s push to change began with a mea culpa.
“For so long we haven’t been fair to you,” the president said, promising that a series of “groundbreaking” new laws will help establish a more equal society for all of the nation’s citizens.
Minister of Gender and Children’s Affairs Manty Tarawalli applauded the move, explaining that women across the country have spent many years “crying” for their rights.
“It means a lot to women in Sierra Leone,” Tarawalli said.
Beyond an apology for past wrongs, Bio explained that the nation’s new Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment Act will set in motion a series of safeguards that will benefit girls and women.
Here are a few highlights:
- 30% of all jobs at employers with more than 25 workers must be set aside for women.
- Women receive 14 weeks of maternity leave and increased banking access.
- Violators can face fines of up to $2,500 or even jail time.
While Tarawalli spoke for many other women in the country who see the new law as a step in the right direction, she noted that “more steps will have to be taken before the country can say fairness has been achieved across the genders.”
Prior to the new protections, UN Women reported that women (who make up more than half of the population) predominantly “work in insecure, poorly paid jobs, with few opportunities for advancement.”