The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed cracks in social policies worldwide.

Lockdowns, job losses, and other constraints have worsened poverty and gender inequality. To advocate for change, we must understand the history of social policy, how it’s implemented now, its weaknesses, and its gendered implications. Gender-equitable, transformative social policy is critical given COVID-19’s disproportionate impact on women.

Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea provide an interesting case study. As Mano River Union countries, they share some history, ethnic groups, and geography. But as former French and British colonies, Guinea and Sierra Leone absorbed different colonial ideologies. Liberia, though never colonized, was heavily influenced by America. These histories shaped social policies.

The synthesis paper compares policies across sectors – education, health, labor, agriculture – highlighting similarities and differences in social policymaking over time. A key focus is how gender has featured. Irrespective of colonization, social policies primarily benefited colonizers or a small elite minority, not local populations. Education aimed to produce administrators to govern colonies. Agricultural and infrastructure projects provided raw materials for colonial industry. Healthcare and employment policies enabled resource extraction and export.

Colonialism entrenched gender inequality, a legacy that persists. Colonial education emphasized male leadership and female support roles. By neglecting girls’ education and teaching gendered subjects, seeds of inequality were sown. Colonial policies and economics reinforced the marginalization of female labor.

This comparative analysis of gendered social policy evolution reveals how history shapes equity. It underscores the need for transformative policies to dismantle systemic gender discrimination.