February 8, 2018 By Memunatu Bangura
UN Women Country representative in Sierra Leone, Dr. Mary Okumu, has noted that violence against women during elections is a serious course for concern that demands serious intervention.
She was speaking on Wednesday, February 7 at Bintumani Hotel, during the launch of a book titled: ‘Preventing Violence Against Women in Elections: A Progressive Guide.’
Dr. Okumu said women are often targeted both as candidates and voters, adding that while exercising their rights to vote and to be voted for they are sometimes viewed as threat to traditional power relations and the status quo.
The UN Women representative stated that such violence can sometimes take the form of physical assault as well as physical intimidation, psychological abuse and social marginalisation.
According to her, women represent 50% of Sierra Leone’s population and that unless women are equally represented in elections and governance structure, significant portion of the population would be left behind.
She added that it was impossible to speak of good governance if more than fifty percent of the citizenry are left out of decision-making and if the voice of women was not considered.
She said structural barriers expressed through discriminatory laws and institutions still limit women’s opportunity to run for political offices, while other social barriers to education and responsibilities in the home could mean women were less likely than men to have contacts and resources which can aid success.
Dr. Okumu stated that UN Women advocates for laws and policies that aim at boosting the number and capacity of women leaders, adding that that women should also be supported to acquire skills to compete at the top of their games.
She encouraged Sierra Leoneans to make a personal pledge to spread the message of anti-violence against women in politics and during the elections, talk to family members about the importance of peaceful elections and remind people about the choice of their votes. She also urged the audience to talk to political party representatives and sensitise the public about ending violence against women in election and reporting violence and harassment to relevant authorities.
Western Area Commissioner at National Electoral Commission (NEC), Ms. Miatta French, said violence against women was a serious concern to the electoral body as it discourages women to become politically active and undermines the integrity of democratic process.
Ms. French said Sierra Leone recognises the importance of women’s participation in election, while encouraging Sierra Leonean women in politics to inculcate positive attribute towards elections.
She urged Sierra Leonean women to challenge narratives of violence against them during elections, stating that women were most time scared of participating in elections for fear of being hurt during the process.
She said that though women represent half of the country’s population they remain under-represented in elective positions and decision-making bodies, noting that women’s representation has dwindled considerably over the past years.
Commissioner at the Political Parties Registration Commission (PPRC), Babatunde Pratt, said violence against women during elections was unacceptable as it has no space in society, hence an affront to humanity.
Commissioner Pratt encouraged men to see women in politics as partners in development, adding that politics would be better with increased women’s participation.
He concluded that women are most vulnerable during political violence, thus encouraging men to encourage those with interest in politics.