The Hon. Manty Tarawalli, former Gender Minister in Sierra Leone, was celebrated during the recent Ministerial Forum at Harvard for her landmark achievement in legislating a minimum 30% female representation in government and all public and private institutions. Minister Tarawalli ascribed her success in navigating the fraught politics of the issue to her 2019 participation in the Harvard Ministerial Leadership Program.

“Before coming to Harvard, through several virtual meetings, I was supported by the Program to identify the policy goal for my legacy. At Harvard, I had the opportunity, through interaction with colleagues and senior politicians, to interrogate my legacy choice, map its contribution to the overall country agenda, and develop a solid implementation plan with associated inter-ministerial partnerships, targets, and timelines. This sharpened my confidence and strengthened my resolve to push through the challenges to completion.”

When Ms. Tarawalli was appointed Minister of Gender and Children’s Affairs in 2019, she was the first Minister ever to hold such a position tasked with addressing historical gender discrimination in all spheres. Given the deep-seated gender attitudes, Minister Tarawalli realized early on that legislation would be necessary to mandate a change. Even though the President was fully in support of her efforts, at first the Minister faced solid resistance even from within her own ruling party, as well as other women leaders who accused the Minister of not being an authentic advocate for gender equity when others had been pushing the issue for years before.

Opposed by Cabinet and rejected by Parliament the proposed Gender Empowerment and Women Equity (GEWE) Bill was in limbo when Minister Tarawalli was invited to participate in the Harvard Ministerial Leadership Forum. At Harvard, she was able to step back from the fray and strategize how to proceed.

While at Harvard she realized she needed a deliberate strategy to build a supportive coalition among her fellow Ministers and to win over her detractors. On her return to Sierra Leone, she launched an extended process of one-on-one consultation with her Cabinet colleagues, opposition leaders in Parliament, as well as traditional leaders and community groups. With advice she got she also changed her message from a human rights perspective to the potential economic benefits of increased participation by women in the economy. Minister Tarawalli says she came to realize that; “Policies reflect the wishes of the people, so it is important that you consult with the people to develop the policy and report back to them on your actions. This engenders integrity and inclusivity to the process.”

While the Minister was building public support for gender equity, she was also taking initiatives to advance the cause on other fronts successfully advocating for gender budgeting leading to a 22% increase in the budget for girls’ education, free STEM education for all girls, and an increase in the budget to reduce maternal mortality from 6% to 11%.

Nearly three years after her appointment, on November 15, 2022, the Parliament of Sierra Leone enacted the GEWE, mandating 30% of Parliamentary seats, diplomatic appointments, local councils, the civil service, and private institutions with 25 or more employees be women. It also lengthens maternity leave from 12 to 14 weeks and integrates gender considerations into all sectoral policies and legal frameworks. Moreover, it sets up gender-responsive budgeting and a multisectoral Steering Committee to guarantee the law’s implementation. You can access a full account of Minister Tarawalli’s experience shepherding this landmark legislation here.