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A statement by the chairlady of Women’s Forum, National Union of Sierra Leone Students (NUSS)

A statement by the chairlady of Women’s Forum, National Union of Sierra Leone Students (NUSS)

It is high time we re-discover the person in us and see what we are capable of doing (Photo: Fatmata Kamara, Chairlady of Women’s Forum, National Union of Sierra Leone Students (NUSS))

The International Women’s Day (IWD) also known as the United Nations Day for Women’s Rights and International Peace is a day when women are recognized for their achievements without regard to divisions, whether national, ethnic, linguistic, cultural, economic or political. It honours working women, women’s struggle everywhere, the importance of women in society, their influence, and issues that affect them.

International Women’s Day first emerged from the activities of labour movements at the turn of the twentieth century in North America and across Europe. The first International Women’s Day occurred on March 19, in 1911. Women rallied and organized meetings. The March 19 date was chosen in honour of the day that the Prussian king promised to introduce votes for women in 1848. His promise gave hope for equality, though he failed to keep up to it.

The date was moved to March 8, in 1913. The UN drew global attention to women’s concerns in 1975 by calling for an International Women’s Year. It also convened the first conference on women in Mexico City that year. The UN General Assembly then invited member States to proclaim March 8 as the UN Day for Women’s Right and International Peace in 1977. The day aimed to help nations worldwide eliminate discrimination against women. It also focused on helping women gain full and equal participation in global development. It is a commemoration that serves as a rallying point to build support for women’s rights and participation in the political and economic arenas.

Women the world over and especially Sierra Leone, have been referred to as the weaker sex for far too long. Women also continue to be victims of violence, with rape and domestic violence listed as significant causes of disability and death among women worldwide. This discriminatory trend has continued for many decades wherein women are consistently relegated to occupy the back seat in society, but today, as we celebrate the International Women’s Day, I am proud as a young woman to state that we are working side by side with men in ensuring that we build our beautiful nation. Much progress has been made to protect and promote women’s right in recent times. However, nowhere in the world can women claim to have all the same rights and opportunities as men, according to the UN. The majority of the world’s 1.3 billion absolute poor are women.

Until quite recently, Sierra Leone has been a highly patriarchal society. Institutionalized gender inequalities are exacerbated by discriminatory customs, particularly with relation to marriage, property rights and sexual offences. Women and girls experienced high levels of illiteracy and limited options for employment, which prevent them from participating in the community as citizens with equal rights. They have limited access to education, justice, health care and political decision making, but we are thankful that the government has realized that gender equality and women’s empowerment contribute significantly to national development and cohesion. Traditional family structures perpetuating gender inequality through patriarchal norms of property ownership and inheritance; discrimination in the public domain; weak and unequal trade and economic practices have been handled through the following policies and legal framework:

  1. The Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against women(CEDAW) which provides the grounds for equality by ensuring women’s equal access to public and political participation, education, economy and health.
  2. Goal 3 of the Millennium Development Goals which underscored that equality and women’s empowerment are fundamental drivers for development, economic and poverty reduction.
  3. Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender and Children Affairs’ gender policies which focus on the implementation of the National Gender Strategic Plan 2010-2014.

As women, we were specifically created by God for a purpose. Since the day we were born, we have been charged with the responsibility to make a difference in society. To infect and affect society positively, as Diane Mariechild once stated:

“A woman is in the full circle. Within her is the power to create, nurture and transform.”

It is high time we started giving ourselves the time to discover the person in us and see what we are capable of doing. We can do it, there is no law that says we can’t. The saying by Arlene Rankin is true, that:

 “The way in which we think of ourselves has everything to do with how our world sees us and how we see ourselves successfully acknowledged by the world.”

Women never believed we are capable of doing so much more. Why is that? That is because deep within us somewhere, it has been ingrained since generations, that we are not capable of many things. We cannot or must not or should not or will not… One’s mindset and lack of self-esteem can do more harm to one’s self than any other thing in the world. Added to this is the indisputable fact that most of the times, it is women who are obstacles to women themselves. Well meaning consistent support, however small, for however trivial situations in life, if honestly given to women by people who matter, will truly make a big impact on women’s empowerment. Small things like encouraging a daughter find her dreams and helping her achieve them; appreciating the efforts and helping a woman at home; treating all children equal boy or girl; making a woman believe in herself and increase her self-confidence by letting her take some important decisions; making a woman feel safe and other considerate gestures shown to women at the basic unit called family, will impact the society positively and tremendously more than any lofty women’s day celebrations will.

As the Chairlady of the Women’s Forum, National Union of Sierra Leone Students (NUSS), it is with a heavy heart that I register my disappointment towards the massive influx of teenage pregnancy in our beloved country. This is a disheartening issue that has eaten deep into the fabric of our society. Teenage pregnancy we all know is dishonourable. For me, it has no advantage but loads of disadvantages. The tendency for a teenage mother to become a dropout is very great. It leads to early marriage exposing one to being with the wrong person as a partner, causes untimely death, limits your opportunities in life, steals your pride away, reduces your integrity, damages your reputation, destroys your moral value and of course, destroys your future.

Girls, let us refrain from premarital sex and end child marriage. Let us join the first lady and women of Sierra Leone in the fight against teenage pregnancy. Let us add value to our lives every day. Take note, the decisions we make now have the potential to make or break us in the future. Five minutes of casual sex can make one a casualty for life. Forget premarital sex and explore every opportunity in life. Let men and babies wait, education comes first. To those who have become victims of teenage pregnancy, I implore you all to vehemently make the resolution of change. You still have a chance, all is not yet lost, if only you are ready to make the change. Mariama Ba, a Senegalese novelist and feminist makes this assertion in her novel So Long A Letter (1981):

“A profligate life for a woman is incompatible with morality. What does one gain from pleasures? Early ageing, debasement…. I have not given up wanting to refashion my life. Despite everything-disappointments and humiliations-hope still lives on within me. It is from the dirty and nauseating humus that the green plant sprouts into life, and I can feel new buds springing up in me.” (P87-89)

There is always a second chance if one has the willing heart to do so. By honouring and treating yourself with respect, you set the stage up for others to treat you with respect. Developing great self-esteem, believing in one’s self, having a never-say-die attitude and most importantly by supporting other women, women set the sails towards true women empowerment.

As the theme for this year’s celebration is “MAKE IT HAPPEN”, let us make women’s empowerment happen, let us make our success happen, let us make the development of our great nation happen. On that note, I call on all female pupils and students across the length and breadth of Sierra Leone to come forward and join in the fight against teenage pregnancy, women discrimination and take center stage towards nation building in our beloved Mama Salone.

Long live Sierra Leone

Long live the National Union of Sierra Leone Students (NUSS)

Long live the women and students of our great nation.

Submitted by Dennis Kabbato

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