Improving the Sierra Leone Parliament’s access to crucial gender-sensitive data

Group of people standing
04 January 2021

Improving the Sierra Leone Parliament’s access to crucial gender-sensitive data

As democratic representatives of the people, parliaments have the key responsibility of examining policies and their impact on citizens. This is essential in times of a crisis, such as the COVID-19 pandemic. In July 2020, WFD launched a project focused on supporting the Parliament of Sierra Leone by improving its access to crucial gender–sensitive data during the pandemic.

Dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic requires consolidated efforts from all fronts. As democratic representatives of the people, parliaments have the key responsibility of examining policies and their impact on citizens. This is essential in times of a crisis, such as the COVID-19 pandemic. In July 2020, WFD launched a project focused on supporting the Parliament of Sierra Leone by improving its access to crucial gender–sensitive data during the pandemic. 

Gendered statistics are fundamental in understanding how COVID-19 affects different groups in society. For example: are pregnant women able to seek medical care? Are rape and sexual assault victims able to access support services? The maternal mortality ratio; cases of teenage pregnancies and child marriages; the rate of knowledge of contraceptives and their use; and the number of people whose income decreased due to COVID-19 job losses and pay cuts are all pieces of information that are key informing a thorough and effective response to the pandemic. 

Women are the primary carers in most families in Sierra Leone. Women also dominate most sectors of the economy hardest hit by the pandemic, such as hospitality and tourism. Growing data shows that since the COVID-19 outbreak, domestic and gender-based violence has increased, with many women forced to stay at home with their abusers. What is more, women are greatly underrepresented in decision-making bodies in Sierra Leone. Men largely dominate those bodies with very little access to the appropriate data or information about the challenges faced by women and girls. 

In the past, Members of Parliament (MPs) in Sierra Leone did not have the critical data and information necessary to conduct a more inclusive, gender-responsive oversight of government action. WFD’s project was therefore tailored to support MPs in Sierra Leone to be better informed and able to hold the Government to account on its COVID-19 response. This information is intended to inform MPs’ inputs in parliamentary debates, oversight, and law-making processes that focuses on the effect of COVID-19 on vulnerable groups such as women and girls. 

After five months of research, which aimed at addressing the challenge of MPs limited access to gender-sensitive data, WFD held an event on 26th November 2020 to mark the successful completion of the programme. The culmination of the project – titled improving accountability and gender sensitivity of COVID-19 response in Sierra Leone – was the presentation of the gender–sensitive COVID-19 research product to members of the National Assembly Gender Committee. 

A person addressing a group sitting in a meeting
Presentation of the gender research product to the gender committee in Parliament on November 26, 2020

The research undertaken by WFD during the project proved crucial as a model for how to unlock an untapped area of critical gender–sensitive COVID-19 data. 

The information obtained in the research is essential in supporting parliamentarians in Sierra Leone conduct effective and gender-sensitive scrutiny by: 

  • Crafting policy measures that will mitigate long term impacts of COVID-19 on men and women.  
  • Identifying the gender gap necessary for governments to design comprehensive and gender sensitive social and economic policy responses. 
  • Fighting the pandemic and informing humanitarian response. 
  • Strengthening prevention and response actions in case of a future pandemic. 

Looking back; the programme was timely and crucial in supporting the Sierra Leone Parliament to advocate for better outcomes for women and girls. In the context of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) on gender equality, addressing critical data gaps on gender can form an important part of an advocacy agenda. The Sierra Leonean Parliament is now in a better position to analyse and make policies that are necessary in addressing gender inequality in the country. 

The ‘improving accountability and gender sensitivity of COVID-19 response in Sierra Leone’ project was funded by the British High Commission in Sierra Leone.