By Amin Kef Sesay
The Sierra Leone Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment Bill, which if passed into law by the House of Parliament would require the government to draw up an accompanying policy which is yet to be passed.
On the legal basis for the GEWE Policy, the 1991 Constitution of Sierra Leone provides the foundation for the principles of gender equality. Article 15 states that:
“—— every person in Sierra Leone is entitled to the fundamental human rights and freedoms of the individual, that is to say, has the right, whatever his race, tribe, place of origin, political opinion, colour, creed or sex,——–”
Additionally, Article 8(2)(a, b and c) demands that:
(2) a. “ —– every citizen shall have equality of rights, obligations, and opportunities before the law, and the State shall ensure that every citizen has an equal right and access to all opportunities and benefits based on merit;”
- “——the State shall recognise, maintain and enhance the sanctity of the human person and human dignity; “and
- “——-the Government shall secure and maintain the independence, impartiality and integrity of courts of law and unfettered access thereto, and to this end shall ensure that the operation of the legal system promotes justice on the basis of equal opportunity, and that opportunities for securing justice are not denied any citizen by reason of economic or other disability.”
The above mentioned constitutional provisions compel the government of Sierra Leone to improve the status of women everywhere in the country, eradicate the injustices they have suffered in the past and continue to suffer and put measures in place for the implementation and promotion of social and economic justice for women, girls, men and boys.
According to the 2015 Population and Housing Census of Sierra Leone, women account for 50.8% of the country’s population. In spite of this, they remain significantly absent in decision-making and leadership positions in public and private spheres. Women also continue to experience gender-based violence including rape and other forms of sexual violence, wife beating and unequal access to production resources like land, financial services and education and training. For Sierra Leone’s strive for sustainable peace to be achieved, women have to be active and effective players in all spheres and their economic empowerment must go together with the country’s economic growth and development.
Under the APC Government headed by former President Ernest Bai Koroma, the former Deputy Minister of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs, Mustapha Bai Attila disclosed that the gender equality and women’s empowerment bill would be tabled in Parliament.
The former Deputy Gender Minister promised that the Government will ensure that the 30% quota for women in political and public spaces is enacted, stating that it is very important in the development of the country. He added that empowerment of women should not be limited to political appointment but also economically. The recommendations include governance- 30% quota; energy, infrastructure and transport, security and justice, education, training and ICT, agriculture, employment, private sector and industry, water, sanitation and health and land and property.
To push the process of tabling the bill forward, different women solidarity groups were assembled into technical committees to look into issues to be included in the gender equality and women’s empowerment bill, with the Ministry of Social Welfare together with the Advocacy Movement Network (AMNet) and the Human Rights Commission highlighting over ten recommendations.
The first Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment (GEWE) Policy was drafted in 2014, but was not presented to Cabinet before the exit of the previous Government. With the entrance of a new administration, emerging, national, regional and global issues and concerns, among others, necessitated a review of the policy before it can be presented to Parliament.
Key among them are the priorities of the Government which includes access to free and quality education, job creation, women and youth development and health care; the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) and mud slide of 2014 and 2017 respectively; increasing rate of gender-based violence (GBV) in the country, human trafficking and the quest for technological innovations.
The GEWE Policy as a lawful reference point for addressing gender inequalities by all stakeholders at national and community levels and family units throughout the country. The policy seeks to empower women to make choices at all sectors of the development paradigm and calls for equal access for women and men to opportunities across all areas of the economy.
Furthermore, it clarifies the roles and responsibilities of the institutions that comprise the Gender Management Structure. It also ensures that gender perspective is considered in national development plans, sectoral policies and strategies supported by monitoring and evaluation indicators that are designed to benchmark the performance of stakeholders on gender equality and equity. In addition, the policy emphasises the need for gender responsive budgeting in the public and in private sectors.
The GEWE Policy calls on the President of Sierra Leone to take full leadership for gender equality and women’s empowerment by outlining key steps that can be taken at the highest level of Government to ensure that the fundamental principles of gender equality and women’s empowerment cascade down to all facets of society right through to the local communities. The GEWE policy is designed to follow a multi-sectoral approach in implementation to ensure gender equality and women’s empowerment.
The priority areas of the GEWE policy for Sierra Leone are as follow:
- Gender, education and training
- Gender, rural development and social protection
- Gender-based violence
- Gender, decision-making and political leadership
- Gender, health, cancer, sexual and reproductive health and HIV/AIDS
- Gender, trade, employment and economic development
- Gender, the environment and disaster management
- Gender, media and access to information, communication technology and innovation
- Gender, disabilities and other forms of social inequities
- Gender, legal justice and human rights
- Gender, Culture and Family
- Gender, peace-building and conflict resolution
- Gender responsive budgeting
The overall goal of the GEWE policy is to create a framework that promotes equal rights for women and men in Sierra Leone, as a precedent to legislation that ensures gender equality and women’s empowerment. The policy will ensure that gender equality is mainstreamed and promoted as a pertinent element to sustainable economic development. This will greatly depend on the meaningful and timely allocation of resources and the efficient use of those resources to create a society in which women and men have equal access to basic services and enjoy the same rights and opportunities in enabling environments.
The Government of Sierra Leone has also adopted National Policy Frameworks to promote gender mainstreaming that it is obligated to make good on, on moral grounds which include:
- National Policy on Gender Mainstreaming (2000)
- National Policy on the Advancement of Women (2000)
- National Referral Protocol on Gender-Based Violence (2012)
- National Action Plan on Gender-Based Violence (2012)
- Sierra Leone National Action Plan for Full Implementation of United Nations Resolutions 1325 (2000) and 1820 (2008) (SILNAP), 2010-2014
- Implementation Plan on the Sexual Offences Act 2015
- The Child Rights Acts (2007)
- Domestic Violence Act (2007)
- Devolution of Estate Act (2007)
- Registration of Customary Marriage and Divorce Act (2009)
- Sexual Offences Act (2012)
- The Agenda for Prosperity (2013-2018)
- National Gender Strategic Plan: (2018-2023)
At the regional and international levels, Sierra Leone has adopted, signed and or ratified a number of key regional and international instruments, laws and agreements that conform to the principles of gender equality such as:
- Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women
(CEDAW – 1979)
- General Recommendations of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women,
- Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment(1984)
- UN General Assembly, Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women(1993) (This declaration calls upon States to ‘take measures to ensure that law enforcement officers and public officials responsible for implementing policies to prevent, investigate and punish violence against women receive training to sensitize them to the needs of women’. (Article 4-i)
- Beijing Platform for Action(1995)
- UN General Assembly Resolution 52/86 on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Measures to Eliminate Violence against Women(1998)
- Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court – Includes acts of rape and other forms of sexual violence as “Crimes Against Humanity” when committed in a widespread or systematic manner, whether or not in times of armed conflict. (Article 7g)
- UNGA, Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons especially Women and Children(2000/2004)
- The Maputo Protocol (2003)
- The Solemn Declaration on Gender equality in Africa adopted by A.U. Heads of State and Government in July 2004
- UNSC Resolution 1820(2008) – Among others, this resolution calls on states to end impunity for sexual violence and ensure that all victims have equal protection under the law. (Art. 4)
- UNSC Resolution 1888(2009)
- UNSC Resolution 1325 (2000) on Women, peace and security, which among others stresses the importance of women’s equal participation and full involvement in all efforts to maintain/promote peace and security.
- UNSC Resolution 1889 (2009) on Women, peace and security, which stipulates among others to Design of concrete strategies to support women and girl’s security needs, including through gender-responsive law enforcement. (Art. 10)
- Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa(2003)
- African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, Resolution on the Right to a Remedy and Reparation for Women and Girls Victims of Sexual Violence,(2007)
- The AU Gender Policy predicated on a 50/50 gender parity principle.
- The Maputo Declaration on Agriculture and Food Security, 2003
- The Maputo Declaration on Gender Mainstreaming and Effective Participation of Women in the Africa Union, 2003
- The Millennium Development Goals (2005-2015), which among others call for gender equality and the empowerment of women
- Sustainable Development Goals 2016
- ECOWAS Supplementary Act relating to equality of rights between women and men for sustainable development in ECOWAS region (2015)
Thus, given the immense contribution of women to governance and peace-building efforts, the call for the enactment of the Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment Policy, should be seen by the Government as part of the different instruments guaranteeing women’s peace and security in Sierra Leone.
The campaign to disseminate different instruments on women’s peace and security; capture and showcase women’s contribution to governance and peace building efforts was implemented by the Media Reform Coordinating Group (MRCG) and its constituents members WIMSAL (Women in the Media Sierra Leone) and IRN (Independent Radio Network) with support from UNDP (United Nations Development Programme).