One of the versatile legal luminaries that is widely known and respected for her uprightness and positive disposition, Basita Michael Esq, who happens to be the President of the Sierra Leone Bar Association, has once more come under the spotlight for her expressed views on national matters.
Few days ago the women of Sierra Leone joined by the Christian Lawyers Centre (LEGAL LINK) to condemn the volume of verbal attacks and frustrations that have been exported on her, for simply expressing her candid opinion on how sustainable peace and national cohesion can be achieved in the State during the Bintumani 3 Conference.
According to LEGAL LINK, as an organisation that defends the rights of Human Rights Defenders in Sierra Leone, they take the greatest exception to this unsavoury behaviour and the utmost dislike for dissenting voices in a democratic society.
In a release issued out recently, LEGAL LINK states: “We have taken the pains to listen to and critically analyse the statement of Basita Michael at the Peace and National Cohesion Conference (Bintumani 111) for which she is 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.”
As a matter of fact, LEGAL LINK went on, the ECOWAS Representative and the Representatives from Kenya and Rwanda also made strong statements and condemnation against policies and practices within a State that marginalizes a particular group of persons on the basis of their tribe, sex, region, colour or political orientation.
LEGAL LINK said there was consensus amongst all the international Representatives present at Bintumani 3 that such political ethnocentricisms, narrow and parochial assumptions should be detested in the State if lasting peace and social cohesion is to be achieved.
But why then the verbal outrage and outburst on Basita Michael’s presentation and not her male counterparts has been one of the perturbing questions asked by LEGAL LINK.
According to them, the reason is simple – dominance; sexism; parochiality and male chauvinistic attitudes at play. It is not a coincidence or a surprise that all the frontline critics of the iron lady have been men. I will explain.
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 in Sierra Leone will reveal that challenges still exist in terms of access, equality and non- discrimination.
It is important to emphasize that Basita Michael is not the only victim to the campaign for women’s rising in Sierra Leone. Other notable women that have dared to cross the line have faced similar embarrassments and assassinations of their characters.
Her worship, Yvonne Aki Sawyer, Mayor of the Municipality of Freetown for example has witnessed tough moments of undue criticisms and bashing over her quest to initiate independent policies and programmes to govern the Municipality of Freetown during the first year of her tenure.
Marcella Samba, Head of Campaign for Good Governance has also witnessed her own lots for standing up and speaking out. Her forthrightness and aggressiveness in pushing for the truth has been often misinterpreted to mean disrespect for state officials and protocols. Her recent admonition over 98.1 radio for both President Bio and the former President, Ernest Bai Koroma, to reach out to each other and be seen hand in gloves before the conference was greeted with strong outrage and resentments by critics in many social media platforms.
But notwithstanding the political hullabaloo, alas, ‘chickens have come home to roost’.
From the above points raised, it stands to reason therefore that the verbal outbursts and rhetoric on Basita Michael’s presentation was not just an exception but rather a display 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, LEGAL LINK called on Governments to do more than just the ordinary if the status quo is to change in fundamental terms.
They recommended the need to embark on smart and concrete solutions that will help demystify rhetoric and nuances that undermines 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. This will certainly help in changing attitudes and perceptions of Women in Sierra Leone.
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 attacks that have been levied against women activists both in the past and in the now, it begs for the urgent passing of a law that protects human rights defenders in Sierra Leone.
LEGAL LINK is a non- profit legal advocacy group that seeks to defend the rights of religious communities and vulnerable groups in Sierra Leone through public interest litigation, advocacy, legal and policy reforms and ensuring respect for fundamental human rights in both domestic and international law.