Transform Freetown

Putting Gender and Climate Justice First
A woman-led policy agenda for municipal and local governance, aimed at facing climate change by foregrounding gender equity in climate justice


How can communities ravaged by poverty, gender inequity, and the aftermath of colonial rule and civil war respond to climate breakdown effectively? Women are disproportionately affected by climate breakdown and, as more women are displaced from rural areas suffering drought, flash flooding, and crop failure, female populations in cities grow. Facing combined issues of housing scarcity and climate degradation (urban sprawl has caused biodiversity loss, pollution, and water contamination), women are caught in an infrastructure still dominated by patriarchal control. Women’s rights, capabilities, and agency as potential leaders are routinely violated and ignored. Addressing infrastructures such as waste management, housing, transportation, food supply, and so forth, in an integrated manner that prioritises the needs and safety of women and children, is paramount in ensuring that urban areas such as Freetown, Sierra Leone, experience greater climate justice.


Realising these challenges, in 2018, Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr became the first woman elected as mayor of Freetown in 40 years. Since then, through her Transform Freetown policy agenda, Aki-Sawyerr has led women in resilience-building strategies in the face of the climate breakdown by helping communities become safer and more prepared for disasters. Across the city and its municipal divisions, the Transform Freetown agenda is employing women to lead in formal roles of representation and in smaller community-based organisations. More than 1,200 new jobs have been created through tree-planting, shaded shelter construction, water management, waste collection, and other activities. Beyond a significant rise in green jobs such as these, the provision is also important because, where possible, jobs and projects are supervised by women-led local governments. In informal settlements where government is less formalised, local organisers receive support from the Mayor. Projects have included designing community-based early warning systems for natural disasters, forming savings cooperatives that allow households (particularly women) to recover after losses to livelihoods, and working with C40 Cities funding to undertake a feasibility study for cable car transportation that would reduce the amount of polluting car traffic in the city.

Although many regions like Sierra Leone experience continued and pervasive gender inequality whereby men block women’s access to vital infrastructures of education, finance, and land tenure, and where extreme poverty limits people’s capacity to engage in resilience-building initiatives, Transform Freetown fosters collective struggle and presents a transparent role model for further initiatives.1For more, see Molly Kellogg, ‘Women Building Resilient Cities in the Context of Climate Change’, n.d. <> [accessed 6 July 2022]. Like other projects that conduct gender-responsive data collection with regards to climate and cities (Women4Climate, for example), Transform Freetown understands the intersectional challenge of supporting women, poor people, and the climate as interrelated constituents. This eco-intersectional approach is vital for climate justice, if it is to address legacies of colonialism and patriarchy, and stand in solidarity with those most vulnerable to colonialism and patriarchy’s structural harms.