Women’s Right to Heredity Inheritance in Kabala Problematic

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    By Alusine Rehme Wilson

    Apart from ancient beliefs that women are not entitled to family inheritance discriminatory laws, customs, traditions and family bonds are the banes that affect the work of the Family Support Unit, Traditional Leaders, the Judiciary and other groups working to address heredity marginalization against women in Sierra Leone and  Kabala in particular.

    This is confirmed by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) Recommendation 319 which states that, “Women and girls in Sierra Leone continue to suffer historic structural inequality on account of their gender. Gender inequality is entrenched in all spheres of social, political and economic life by discriminatory laws, customs, traditions and practices.

    Paragraph 320 points out that, “the Commission notes that the State has not yet taken the necessary steps to eradicate structural inequality against women that still pervades Sierra Leonean in the areas of marriage, divorce, land rights, inheritance and the administration of estates remain major obstacles to the transformation of women’s lives.”

    With support from the Media Reform Coordinating Group-(MRCG) and African Transitional Justice Legislative Fund-(ATJLF), key interviews were conducted targeting marginalized groups specifically focusing on women in Kabala. This was to enable women who have been suffering in silence and who have endured such marginalization to speak out.

    It also gave traditional leaders and other stakeholders the opportunity to add their voices on the issue and what should be done to protect and encourage orphan girls, widows and married women to expose perpetrators of heredity violations by reporting cases to traditional leaders in their communities and to the Police.

    A decade ago, this less densely populated North-Eastern District Headquarter Town of Koinadugu (Kabala) was the first to recover from the civil war; no wonder it now has an estimated population of over 18,500 inhabitants. These inhabitants are predominantly Muslims with a minute Christian population making it one of the most ethnically diverse cities, and the second largest city in the North-East Region hosting five of the seventeen ethnics groups in Sierra Leone.

    Surrounded by Mountains including Wara-Wara Mountain, the largest in the country, Kabala – (The Land of Milk and Honey) North-East  is about 85 miles to Makeni and 200 miles from the country’s capital Freetown. This is the place or region where discrimination against women on heredity is deeply entrenched.

    “At my Barry, I do settle disputes on a daily basis but apart from quarrels and civil sermons, marriage and land cases form the bulk of cases I resolve,” 83-year old Section Chief of Gbawuria, Wara-Wara Yagala Chiefdom, Pa. Ferenkai Mansaray, revealed.

    “Husbands and male relatives are the main perpetrators of heredity violation matters against women in my section. My sub-chiefs and I have been taking actions such as levying fines, detaining and referring cases to the local court to prevent women in my section from such human rights violation but sadly our work is almost not taken very seriously and it is often made complex as a result of family interventions,” the Section Chief bemoaned.

    The Family Support Unit Line Manage in Koinadugu District stationed at the Kabala Police Station covering ten Chiefdoms is Alhassan Foday Kamara; he confirmed that out of the ten-(10) gender discrimination cases reported between2018-2019, six-(6) were heredity restriction issues against women in Kabala.

    Alhassan recollected how his department mounted robust investigations and mediations with the intent to charge to court such matters of higher magnitude, but said their effort was frustrated by the complainants themselves who withheld relevant information and showed little or no interests in the matters for fear of breaking family bonds. Five out of the six cases reported were resolved by their family members instead, while one was charged to court.

    “This year, we have recorded and at the moment investigating four-(4) cases; two are heredity discrimination against women, the other two relates to divorce,” Alhassan stated.

    He believed that much is needed to be done in terms of sensitizing the public and building the much needed structures for the FSU especially in the provinces. He commended the State for the promulgation of three Gender Acts of 2007 which comprise of the Domestic Violence Act, the Devolution of Estate Act and the Registration of Customary Marriage and Divorce Acts of Sierra Leone which in his view is a direct response to the TRC recommendation 342, which calls for “a repeal of all statutory and customary laws that discriminates against women.”

    Ya. Amie Mansaray, a 53-year old woman is a victim of heredity discrimination from a family of twelve. She affirmed that women are mostly deprived when it comes to heredity rights in Kabala.

    “I am the eldest daughter of twelve children in my family. I have six brothers and five sisters but since my father and mother passed away in 1980 and 1993 respectively, my brothers on several occasions have deprived my sisters and I access to our family house and have reserved plots of land only for themselves at our village in Kamashakay. I have never been consulted to take decisions about the said properties but my brothers will always compel me to send money when there is burial, naming ceremony and marriage contribution in our family.”

    “It is heart rendering especially for one of my sisters who is a widow. I wish we could have been educated because our family elders are also backing our brothers over us with the belief that women are entitled to their husband’s property only,” she lamented dejectedly.

    Forceful eviction, attempts of illegal divorce, psychological torture and poor documentation of properties remain some of the most pressing heredity problems women in Kabala are facing, and it is but very obvious that the State is obliged to take realistic actions to avert cruelty against women, protect victims and survivors at the same time thoroughly investigate, prosecute and punish perpetrators by way of providing fitting remedy on enhancing Transitional Justice in Sierra Leone.

    This, when followed, will bring into reality recommendation 344 of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission which urges that: “Government take steps to immediately implement its obligations under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women  and to ensure that gender is taken into account in all legislation and Policy.” This is followed by recommendation 345 which states that, ‘’… all aspects of customary law as well as practices which discriminate against women in the realm of inheritance, land ownership, marriage, divorce and the administration of estates be abolished by Parliament.”

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