Say that again! Surely the Suffragettes were tying themselves to railings less than 100 years ago in Britain demanding women’s right to vote. They had to wait until 1928! Sierra Leone got there first:
In the 1792 election in Sierra Leone, all heads of household — one third of whom were women — could vote.
Several British colonies recognised women’s suffrage before most countries. The female descendants of the Bounty mutineers who lived on Pitcairn Islands could vote from 1838. This right was kept when they were resettled on Norfolk Island in 1856. Women in South Australia allowed to vote in local elections from 1861, and those on the Isle of Man could vote in parliamentary elections from 1881.
In 1893, New Zealand became the first independent country to give all adult women the right to vote in national elections. The women in South Australia got the same right in 1894, and became the first to get the right to stand (run) for seats in parliament.Wikipedia
Well well. The powers that be had run test cases in Sweden fron 1718 to 1771 during the Age of Liberty and unmarried women in the state of New Jersey, one of the states in America, had given unmarried women who owned property the vote, but that too was short-lived from 1776 to 1807.
The Revolutionary Republic of Haiti, that had liberated itself from France, led by Toussant L’Ouverture in 1794, gave women the vote in universal suffrage. Sadly this was shortlived. Haiti did win its independance but at an incredible cost, both in lives and in money:
Ironically, France would be one of the first countries to recognise Haitian independence — for a price. For the loss of their colonial territory, they demanded 100 million francs, paid annually until 1887. This is roughly equivalent to $370 million today and it crippled what little remained of the Haitian economy, further fuelling the country’s strife.Tale of Two Islands: Haiti and the Domincan Republic
This article article in Think Africa, Female Voting in Sierra Leone, identifies the hypocrisy from the British establishment when it talks about ‘democracy’. Note: We often forget that Scotland outlawed the slave ownership in 1778 and that it took another 29 years and not until Britain and British colonies prohibitted British ships being involved in the slave trade. Ownership of slaves however, was not abolished until 1833.
Just a taster ….
But how did Sierra Leone become the destination for freed slaves?
After 1778 when Britain outlawed the slave trade (it was in Scotland, The situation in Scotland was more straightforward than in England and the landmark Knight v Wedderburn case of 1778 established that an enslaved person on entering Scotland, ‘the land of liberty’) on its isles, the number of freed slaves was rapidly growing, and they needed a place to start their new lives and settle down. It was agreed then that they ought to settle in lands of their ancestors, or their original homelands. With that, in 1787 a naval vessel was sent to Sierra Leone from London carrying 331 freed slaves, passing through a 20-mile secured coast (secured by the local chief of the Koya Temne tribe, known as King Tom), which is an infamous slaving region. A hundred and one of those on the vessel were women, 41 were freed slaves and 60 were white wives to black men.
Things unfortunately didn’t go well at the beginning, while still in the first year, there was a high rate of death, and then to make things worse, King Jemmy, the successor of King Tom attacked the settlement and burnt it down. Afterwards, it was re-established and the “Province of Freedom” was founded, which was later renamed “Freetown” denoting the fact that it was considered as the base for suppressing the slave trade.
Almost 5 years later, 1200 freed slaves from Nova Scotia were brought to Freetown to join the settlers, and 8 years later in 1792, another group of rebelled slaves came in from Jamaica. By that time, Freetown became a crown colony, and it was decreed that in the 1792 elections of Freetown, all the heads of a household had the right to cast their votes, by which one third of those people were ethnic African women.
Freetown, Sierra Leone, Illustrated London News, December 23, 1854 Public domain image
There are many courageous women in Sierra Leone, as there are across the planet, many are hidden, unreported and their voices go unheard by us in the UK. Here are a few that have reached the internet that show up on the browsers of the UK.
Women may have had the vote in Sierra Leone for over 200 years, but women still have to campaign for their rights. Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is still rife in some communities in Sierra Leone. Women like Ann-Marie Caulker campaigns against FGM and has also set up a school in heads the Freetown School for girls who have refused to accept FGM and have been disowned by their families.
Ann-Marie Caulker is receiving the Roland Berger Human Dignity Award 2017 for courageously and successfully championing the rights and dignity of young girls and children in Sierra Leone. In establishing the NGO Katanya Women’s Development Association and the National Movement for Emancipation and Progress, Ann-Marie Caulker founded two influential organizations to help young women access better opportunities in life through education and to campaign against female genital mutilation, child labor and forced marriage. It is the founder’s wish that other organizations around the world follow the example set by Ann-Marie Caulker.
Femi Claudius Cole
Was the first woman to vie for the country’s presidency in 20 years. Born in 1962, the Sierra Leonean politician is a nurse by profession and founded the Unity Movement with the aim to improve healthcare and education in the country. Following her work as a nurse in Sierra Leone and abroad, Cole has expressed dislike for what she believes are disparities in services available to the rich and poor and the rise in the number of deaths from preventable illnesses. She set up the Unity Party in 2016 to focus on improving education and health. Cole would, however, want to create new jobs and improve trade links when given the opportunity in March 2018.Africa.com
In her own words: Interview with Femi Claudius Cole in the Sierra Leone Telegraph in December 17th 2020
Dr. Aisha Fofana Ibrahim
I am a feminist scholar, researcher and activist and currently the Director of the Institute for Gender Research and Documentation (INGRADOC) at Fourah Bay College, University of Sierra Leone. I have over 15 years of experience teaching and researching gender, literature and peace-building and have published in those areas. My current research focus is in the areas of women’s political participation and quotas, violence against women and gender and security sector reform processes.
I am an executive member of the 50/50 Group, a non-partisan group that advocates for gender parity and women’s empowerment. I advocate for more women’s participation in decision making and for gender responsive policies and laws.Sierra Leonean Writers Series
Aisha Fofana Ibraham was also involved in the Rainbo Initiative which was set up 2002 after the 11-years civil war where sexual violence such as rape was weaponised.
Patricia Narsu Ndanema
Is the Chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Sierra Leone:
Commissioner Patricia Narsu Ndanema was amongst the first set of staff recruited by the Human Rights Commission Sierra Leone (HRCSL) in 2008 when the HRCSL took up effective operations in 2007. She has a joint post graduate degree in Development Planning and Management from the University of Dortmund, Germany and the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST), Kumasi Ghana. She also has a BA degree from Fourah Bay College, University of Sierra Leone. Over the years, she has had several professional training on various human rights thematics and currently pursues International Human Rights Law at Nottingham University UK.Human Rights Commisison of Sierra Leone
Photo at the top of the article is by Roland Berger Stiftung is from the Human Dignity Forum portraying Ann-Marie Caulker at her Freetown School:
Blog by Kate Thomas