Statement on International Women’s Day
This year, the theme for International Women’s Day is Pledge for Parity; a campaign which encourages everyone to take concrete action to help achieve gender parity more quickly. In a country where women account for about 51% of the population achieving gender parity should not require a pledge rather it must be integral to our nation building.
As a country, achieving gender parity means we have to end all forms of discrimination against women and girls wherever they appear – whether in our laws or customs and traditions. For instance, while the 1991 Constitution provides equal rights of men and women section 27 (4) (d) in effect allows for discrimination in areas that mostly affect women.Therefore, I welcome the proposal from the Abridged Draft Report of the Constitutional Review Committee that section 27 will be redrafted to take account of the recommendations of the Peter Tucker Constitutional Review Commission Report in particular to eliminate discrimination against women.
Achieving gender parity also means that as a nation we have to make advancement in women’s economic empowerment and education. Taking concrete action in women’s economic empowerment will lead to poverty eradication. Women make huge contributions to our national economy whether on farms, in businesses, as entrepreneurs or employees.Therefore, giving women access to resources, training, markets, technology and entrepreneurship development will mobilise their productive capacity.However discrimination against women and lack of access to economic opportunities also mean that many women end up in insecure, low paid job and it limits their participation in the socio-economic debate.
Another important aspect to help in achieving gender parity is the advancement of women’s political participation and leadership. In 2012 Presidential elections, for the first time in the history of the Sierra Leone People’s Party, I nominated an outstanding woman in the person of Dr. Kadie Sesay as my Vice Presidential Candidate. However, I recognise that advancing women’s political participation and leadership goes beyond just nominating one woman.
We must also address all the barriers to education – early marriage, teenage pregnancy, extra fees and sexual exploitation – confronting girls. In some communities, families continue to give preferences to boy’s education while girls are only used to perform domestic chores including taking care of their younger siblings and assisting in bringing income to the home. To achieve gender parity families have to give the same opportunities to both boys and girls to have access to education.
Today as we celebrate International Women’s Day, we must also not forget that too many women in our country have become victims of violence – whether domestic, cultural, sexual or structural. In August 2015, the death of Hannah Bockarie at the Lumley beach united the country to demand justice for the despicable act of violence against a teenage girl.
Men as well as women marched in solidarity because they believed no girl deserves to face such a brutal death. Since then we have also heard and seen pictures of numbers of deaths of women in such horrific circumstances with their bodies abandoned in public. Those who perpetrate such violence against women and girls leading to their deaths must never go unpunished.
Regrettably, it is saddening that at a time when the country needs to address the huge challenges facing women and girls across the country, the Ministry of Social welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs responsible, amongst other things, to address relevant issues in policies, practice and law for improving the lives of women and girls was embroiled in brawl between the Minister and his Deputy who have both been sacked.Sadly, this recent debacle further exposes the deficiency of leadership in a Ministry which is both understaffed and under resourced. The question now is: how many Ministries are Ministers and Deputies not in speaking terms and good working relationship?
Let me end by joining many citizens who have made pledges to ensure gender parity in commemoration of this day. If I am elected as Presidential Candidate of the SLPP for 2018 election and elected as President of our great republic, I pledge to do the following for gender parity:
- Establish a Women’s Development Fund to support female entrepreneurs;
- Promote women in agriculture through direct support to them for large scale farming and agro-processing activities;
- Provide opportunities for women to pursue non-traditional subjects such as engineering, mathematics, sciences and medicine;
- Establish a National Commission for Gender Affairs to develop, coordinate, monitor and support the implementation of gender laws and policies;
- Provide training and funding for female candidates for public elections; and
- Establish an Office on Violence Against Women and Girls in the Ministry of Justice dedicated to administer justice and provide support for women and girls who become victims of violence.
By: Rtd. Brig. Julius Maada Bio
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