The Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces (RSLAF) is undertaking a special recruitment of women into the force, targeting hundreds of females from across the country, an initiative supported by the Government of Sierra Leone and the International Security and Advisory Team (ISAT). The RSLAF continues to get support and mentorship from the United Kingdom International Military Training Team (IMATT).
Women are said to make up 3% of the 8,500 strong force. The ‘first-ever-all-female recruitment’ was conducted in 1978/9 when 74 females were enlisted into the army – Initially 10 females were enlisted as cadets in 1978 and 64 enlisted as recruits in 1979.
Brigadier General Peter Lavahun, Assistant Chief of Defence Staff Personnel and Military Secretary and Head of the RSLAF National Recruitment Team, was quoted in a press statement by the RSLAF as saying that the special female recruitment drive was anticipated to increase the army’s profile in terms of gender mainstreaming.
President Julius Bio in his speech on the Armed Forces Day in February this year said, female officers and soldiers should make up 25% of the RSLAF. The country has been making great strides to resume Peace Support Operations. Currently, the UN policy on Peace Support Operations emphasizes 15% of female participation in every peace keeping force.
“We want to go into peacekeeping operations and one of the conditions we are to fulfill is getting female personnel. For every peacekeeping operation, the size of your battalion should include 15 percent of women”, said Major Yayah Sidi Brima, Head of Media at the Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces, whilst talking on Armed Forces Day celebrations, during a TV interview.
The country continues to highlight the relevant role women can play as peacekeepers. In 2013, the country deployed its first battalion to African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). By 2016, Lt. Col. Hoe Pratt was officer in charge of AMISOM Civilian Casualty Tracking Analysis and Response Cell (CCTARC).
The RSLAF is taking a lead in empowering women as per the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Potential recruits for the special female recruitment were drawn from all the regions across the country. As part of the selection process, applicants were assessed in three areas, educational test, which entailed mathematics, English and general knowledge, physical and medical tests.
During an engagement with students in Makeni on the special female recruitment drive on 10th January 2019, Second Lieutenant Patricia Koroma encouraged women to compete with their male counterparts in society. “We have been doing lot of work in the home but still our efforts are unrecognized in society. This time, we are ready to put on our boots because the time is changing now in the military.”
After nearly three months of written exams, physical tests, medicals and interviews, three hundred and twenty-nine (329) female officer cadets and soldier recruits have arrived at the Armed Forces Training Centre (AFTC) in Benguema to commence six-months of training before taking up their places in the RSLAF.
To help guide, encourage and motivate them through their training, they will be led and supported by male and female instructors in the RSLAF, under the command of Brigadier General Fefegulah, Commandant of the AFTC. A seasoned military veteran, he has served throughout Sierra Leone in both peacetime and conflict.
As well as male instructing staff, each platoon has a number of female instructors – all of whom have been through the same training themselves – and a female ‘matron’ specifically charged with the welfare and wellbeing of the cadets and recruits.
For the first time, a retired female officer, (Major Retired) Mrs Euphemia Cole, who joined the RSLAF in 1979 and was the first female commanding officer of the RSLAF Joint Communications Unit, will be employed by the RSLAF as the Civilian Welfare Officer, providing independent welfare support and advice to both the trainees, instructors and the chain of command.
Written by Ibrahim Alhassan Sesay, with additional information and photos provided by the RSLAF media Unit