As an organization that defends the rights of vulnerable groups, promotes respect for the rule of law, due process and constitutionality in Sierra Leone, Christian Lawyers Centre (hereinafter referred to as LEGAL LINK) strongly condemns the verbal attacks, intimidation and censorship of women in Sierra Leone by state and non-state actors.
Just recently, LEGAL LINK has been notified of the unlawful arrest and detention of Femi Claudius - Cole, an opposition politician and leader of the Unity Political Party in Sierra Leone at the CID Headquarters regarding her critical stance on the Mid-Term Census.
It is also reported that Diana Konomanyi, a strong opposition woman based in the Eastern Region of Sierra Leone was also invited by the police over her call to boycott the ongoing Mid-Term Census.
Furthermore, a seasoned female journalist by the name of Asmaa James, station manager of Radio Democracy 98.1 FM came under verbal threats and attacks allegedly emanating from a musician by the name of LAJ over a report that was done by the 98.1 station in which the musician was alleged to have evaded court proceedings thereby leading to the issuance of a bench warrant against him by the court.
The Mayor of Freetown, Yvonne Aki Sawyer, was also summoned recently before the Public Accounts Committee and made to provide answers to a plethora of questions and even subjected to what appears to be a contested proceedings.
The story would not be complete without the mentioning of Lara Taylor Pearce, the suspended Auditor General of Sierra Leone whose only crime for been booted out of office was her uncompromising stance on exposing corruption in the country through annual audit reports.
Despite all of the above ugly situations that have unfolded against prominent women, it is important to emphasize that assault, censorship, intimidation and verbal attacks on women in Sierra Leone is not a new phenomenon.
Every notable woman that has dared to cross the line has faced similar embarrassments and assassinations of their characters.
One of such is Basita Michaels Esq, who happens to be a former President of the Sierra Leone Bar Association. She came under the spotlight for her expressed views on national matters during the Bintumani Conference on Peace and National Cohesion.
After having critically analyzed the statement of Basita Michaels during the conference for which she was being vilified, it is our candid opinion that her statements were not only factually correct but were also said in good faith and at the right platform whose primary objective was to seek for solutions that will foster lasting peace and social cohesion in the State.
Marcella Samba, Head of Campaign for Good Governance and National Elections Watch has also witnessed her own lots for standing up and speaking out. Her forthrightness and aggressiveness in pushing for the truth has often been misinterpreted to mean disrespect for state officials and protocols.
But why the increase in verbal outrage, intimidation, assault and censorship of prominent women by state and non-state actors in recent times?
The reason is simple – dominance; sexism; parochialism and male chauvinistic attitudes at play. It is not a coincidence or a surprise that all the frontline antagonists of these iron ladies have been men.
In Sierra Leone, notwithstanding the plausible efforts of past and current governments to put women at the centre of development through the enactment of laws and policies, much cannot be accounted for in terms of real gains and successes.
A cursory look at women’s representation in the legislative, executive and judicial arms of government will reveal that challenges still exist in terms of access, equality and non- discrimination.
The incessant verbal attacks, intimidation and censorship of women in Sierra Leone by state and non-state actors is a testament of a continued pattern, a rule, as well as an optic revealing the gauge and extent to which our society is still in denial of providing the space for women to fully participate in the social, political and decision making processes in Sierra Leone.
To this end, we call on government to do more than just the ordinary if the status quo is to change in fundamental terms.
Proposing a Gender Equality and Women Empowerment Bill is commendable; but of much more importance is a genuine commitment by the state in ensuring that women’s rights are not only guaranteed and respected but an enabling environment is also created for equal participation in the socio-economic and political landscape of the country.
We further recommend that government embarks on smart and concrete solutions that will help demystify rhetoric and nuances that undermine women’s empowerment in Sierra Leone.
Like Rwanda, a country reputed as model to the world in terms of women’s access to political and decision making platforms, Sierra Leone should implement to the fullest the TRC’s 30% minimum quota recommendation in all spheres of public life and not just for parliamentary seats and positions. This will certainly help in changing attitudes and perceptions of women in Sierra Leone.
Private individuals and organizations must also ensure to respect the rights of women in society and where they fall short, punitive actions must be seen to be taken against them.
Also, being a party to the CEDAW Convention and the MAPUTO Protocol is good but translating such legislative obligations into real outcomes at the national level is what is desirable.
Finally, from the plethora of verbal attacks, intimidation and censorship that have been levied against women activists in particular both in the past and in the now by state and non-state actors, it begs for the urgent passing of a law that protects human rights defenders in Sierra Leone.
Not taking the above steps will certainly amount to a violation of international law since Sierra Leone is a signatory to many international treaties and conventions that protect and guarantee women's rights.
LONG LIVE THE WOMEN OF SIERRA LEONE!!
LONG LIVE WOMEN ACTIVISM!!!
Rashid Dumbuya Esq Executive Director LEGAL LINK