This is an archived article and the information in the article may be outdated. Please look at the time stamp on the story to see when it was last updated.

FREETOWN, Sierra Leone (AP) — A landmark bill mandating that women make up 30% of Sierra Leone’s workforce and government positions went into effect on Friday along with paid maternity leave benefits extended to 14 weeks.

The legislation signed by President Julius Maada Bio applies to all companies in the private sector that employ 25 or more people. It also includes civil service positions and Cabinet appointments.

“The future of Sierra Leone is female,” Bio said at the signing of the bill approved by Parliament late last year. “We must do all it takes to facilitate the timely, full, and unconditional inclusion of women in our national life, governance, and development.”

The new law’s 30% rule doesn’t include smaller businesses and those who are self-employed, eking out their livings selling at markets or along roadsides. It does, however, also ensure women equal access to credit and other financial services. Those who discriminate on the basis of gender could face up to five years in prison as well as fines.

“Like every law, it might be tested and those who are found to be in contravention will be brought to book,” said Aisha Fofana Ibrahim, a prominent gender scholar based at Fourah Bay College, University of Sierra Leone.

Charles Vandi, acting deputy chief director in the Ministry of Gender and Children’s Affairs, said the government would be working to spread the word about the new law.

Since taking office in 2018, the president and first lady Fatima Bio have focused heavily on the rights of women and girls in Sierra Leone. Among the efforts has been a campaign against child marriage called “Hands Off Our Girls.”

About 30% of girls in Sierra Leone are married before the age of 18, according to government statistics. In 2020, a ban on pregnant young women attending school was overturned, though social stigma often remains a barrier.