Page last updated at 12:19 GMT, Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Sierra Leone court backs woman chief bid

Iye Kendor Bandabla, 16/03
Iye Kendor Bandabla said she "felt sick" when she was first barred

A judge in Sierra Leone has ruled for the first time that a woman's bid to become a paramount chief is lawful.

The High Court overturned a ban on Iye Kendor Bandabla from becoming chief in Kissy Teng chiefdom in the country's eastern Kailahun district.

Women's rights activists hailed the ruling as a landmark decision and vowed to fight similar bans in other regions.

Traditionalists oppose women becoming chiefs in most of the country, though they are accepted in the south.

Position of influence

The BBC's Umaru Fofana, in Freetown, says activists will use this ruling to strengthen their case in the Supreme Court, where they are lobbying for the nationwide acceptance of female paramount chiefs.

The ruling comes months after courts refused to support another woman who was barred from becoming chief - prompting the Supreme Court appeal.

Ms Bandabla told the BBC that her father and grandfather had both served as paramount chiefs, and she had "felt sick" when she was barred from standing.

"I'm so happy that I've been given my constitutional right to contest for the position," she said.

Our reporter says that the position of paramount chief remains extremely powerful in Sierra Leone.

He says they command huge respect and are able to mobilise large numbers of votes during elections.

The chiefs are elected by local councillors.

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