The national umbrella female organization in the country ,the Women’s Forum Sierra Leone (WF-SL), in partnership with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and support from the Peace Building Fund, on Friday 1st December, 2023 ended a day’s engagement on the project titled, “Policy Engagement with Security and Justice Sectors to Provide Protection, Access to Justice for Girls and Women and Access to Referral Pathways” at the Freetown City Council Conference Room 311 on Lightfoot Boston Street in Freetown. Other partners were the World Vision and UN Women.
The 100 participants were drawn from Paramount Chiefs in Kono, Karene, Bombali and Pujehun Districts, traditional leaders, councilors, market women and other stakeholders in the Western Area Urban and Rural respectively, the project’s operational areas.
The aim of the project is to maintain peace in communities as well as discuss experiences before, during and after the June 2023 elections.
Lead Facilitator for the engagement was Dr. Francis Sowa of the Mass Communications Department at Fourah Bay College, University of Sierra Leone who headed the experience sharing and dialogue sessions on the themes: “Being Female in the Male World of Security and Justice (Leadership and Political)” and “The Key Issues of Security and Justice Sectors that Provide Protection and Access to Security for Female Leaders and Political Access to Referral Pathways”.
He also facilitated the way forward (Concrete Actions and Steps) Action, Planning, Building Linkages between the Security and Justice Sectors.
Among the recommendations, participants observed that 80% of women are not aware of the laws and their rights and underscored the need to popularize them for women to take ownership, that such meetings must be organized in rural communities, that the Police must provide witness protection, that Women’s Forum must defend its members and partners with the Police and community organizations on the ground, that after sometime some women lose interest in their cases and that women must demand their rights.
Other recommendations were calls for women to sit in Court Barrays, that in Bombali District, women are appointed Chiefdom Speakers, that some decisions taken by Paramount Chiefs are discretional, that after the war a lot of reforms were made in the security and justice sectors, that Paramount Chiefs must take full control of local courts and that there is no woman head of any sports organization in the country.
President of WFSL, Sallay Adams informed that the Forum was founded in 1994, that the UNDP funded-engagement is to discuss issues that affected women before, during and after the June 2023 general elections and recalled that the Forum was formed to respond to the country’s civil war and address the needs of women who suffered the worst during the war years stressing that women have suffered for long in the country.
She furthered commended Government for the political will to enact the Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment Act (GEWEA), the 30% female representation in governance and the decision-making process that has seen more women in Cabinet and Parliament, recalled that the Forum negotiated with the rebels for an end to the civil war as well as advocated for the International Women’s Day to be observed annually in Sierra Leone and launched the Peace Cloth at the Bank of Sierra Leone Complex, Kingtom for peaceful elections.
Chairperson for the event, Rosaline McCarthy, underscored that any law violating women’s rights must be expunged from the constitution.
The Chairman of the National Council of Paramount Chiefs and Paramount Chief of Kpaka Chiefdom, Pujehun District, John Salia Rogers revealed that the Council comprises 190 Paramount Chiefs nationwide, assured that the GEWEA would give hope and guarantee the rights of women and girls, that women are facing a lot of challenges including rape, violence and sexual abuse all of which the Council strongly condemns and wants them swiftly addressed.
He went on to state that women enjoy limited access to control resources, that they need adequate protection from the justice and security sectors as well as equal rights to economic resources, land and other forms of property, right to equal pay and that no girl below the age of 18 should be initiated into the secret female ‘Bondo’ Society as well given into early marriage.
President of the Market Women’s Association, Marie Bob Kandeh catalogued issues affecting women such as co-habitation with a partner for many years without any legal documentation of marriage, no specified amount for child maintenance fee, called for the strengthening of the Gender Desk in Government Ministries, Departments and Agencies and that women are not elected Paramount Chiefs in the North of the country and Kono District,
Other dignitaries who made statements included the President of the Women in the Media Sierra Leone, the representatives of the Sierra Leone Police, the Office of National Security and the Political Parties Regulation Commission while the highlights of the engagement were the question and answer session and viewing of a documentary on peace.