Ian Hughes blogs on International Women’s Day
The best judge of whether or not a country is going to develop is how it treats its women …
Travelling around Sierra Leone I am constantly impressed by the lively, intelligent and capable women that I meet. So it surprises me that so few of them contribute to the development of their communities, their regions, and their country. I’m glad that things are improving, and I hope that in our small way I and my team are helping things along. (Photo: Ian Hughes, British High Commissioner to Sierra Leone)
Sierra Leone isn’t the only place that needs to make better use of an underemployed 50% of its own population. Although some progress has been made across all continents, women across the world continue to be held back. We all need to do better. So I welcome Women’s Day, which fell on 8th March 2012. As a ‘global day to celebrate the economic, political and social achievements of women past, present and future’ it focuses attention on what women can and should contribute to the world we all share.
“If it’s educating its girls, if women have equal rights, that country is going to move forward. But if women are oppressed and abused and illiterate, then they’re going to fall behind.” – Barack Obama
The UK takes an active international role to protect and promote women’s rights. In Sierra Leone, we work with the UN and EU and Government of Sierra Leone reduce all forms of discrimination against women. This work is guided by the UN Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). To mark International Women’s Day my Deputy High Commissioner spoke at the showcasing a film designed to inspire young women to go to school and to show that educated, working and financially independent women are a benefit to family and the community.
In Sierra Leone, particularly in rural communities, many women still face barriers to education, spending their time farming and helping around the home instead of in schools. This reduces their potential in other sectors, binding them to their villages and preventing many from full participation in political and economic life.
The Government, through the UN Universal Periodic Review Process, pledged to address the cultural and historical barriers holding women back and committed to educating women to at least primary level. In addition, the ambitious free maternal healthcare programme, supported by DFID, promises to save the lives of thousands of women and children throughout the country.
Women and girls should have the power to shape their lives and control the decisions that affect them. Access to education for all is at the heart of achieving this. This is a key aim of the 50/50 women’s group of Sierra Leone for whom I recently hosted a successful awareness raising event. The undertaking to secure women’s involvement in politics with 30% representation is bearing fruit, I regularly meet with female Ministers and I hope to see an increase in women MPs following the November elections.
We also need to ensure that women with the drive succeed have every chance to do so. We are working with AdvocAid to strengthen laws enshrining women’s rights are and where they do not exist, they are put in place and implemented. This project has provided professional assistance for women facing legal difficulties, helped secure the release of women facing the death penalty and helped reintegrate women who served their sentences.
But empowering women cannot be brought about by Government alone. It takes commitment and desire of ordinary citizens to bring about a shift in attitudes to the education of girls and the role of women in family, business and political life.
It is a change we are seeing taking place in Sierra Leone and my question to you is what should Sierra Leone do better, and how can we help?
Ian Hughes, British High Commissioner to Sierra Leone
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