The women of Sierra Leone

portrait photo of 3 women

Copyright Lee Karen Stow

The legacy of the slave trade

During the period of the transatlantic slave trade, Bunce Island in Sierra Leone was of one of the largest slave forts in West Africa. By the late 18th century, as the abolition of the slave trade approached, Sierra Leone was chosen as a location for a new colony for former slaves and the capital of Freetown was founded.

Today the United Nations ranks Sierra Leone as one of the poorest countries in the world. In 2002 the country emerged from an 11 year civil war in which many of its people were killed, maimed, raped and displaced. Despite improvements in infrastructure, overseas aid and investment, the country suffers from abject poverty and high unemployment.

Conditions for women

Women especially face immense hardship, lacking equal access to education, economic opportunities and their rights to life and health. Every year thousands of women die, needlessly, giving birth. Violence against women is common. Female genital mutilation causes infection and death. Displaced girls resort to prostitution for income.

The 42 photographs that were shown in this exhibition captured the many emotions experienced by these women including courage and, most importantly, hope.

smiling woman with a basket on her head

From a basket carried on her head this beautiful young woman sells charcoal to light the fires and cooking pots of Kroo Bay in Freetown, Sierra Leone, a slum to several thousand people.
Copyright Lee Karen Stow