March 17, 2015 By Ahmed Sahid Nasralla (De Monk)
Deputy Minister of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs, Mustapha Bai Atilla, needs only one year to end rape against girls and women in Sierra Leone.
That is if his ministry is given judicial powers to prosecute alleged rape cases.
“Most of the rape perpetrators in this country I call them boys. Boys of 25 years of age, 40, 60 and 70. These are not men. They don’t have the guts to face a woman and convince her. If we have the power to try these cases by ourselves at the ministry, give me just one year and you will not hear of rape in this country anymore,” fumed Atilla, adding that he hates rape so much.
Speaking passionately about women issues at a one-day symposium organised by WIMSAL with support from IPAS-Sierra Leone in commemoration of International Women’s Day on the theme: ‘Make it happen: enforce Sexual Offences Act, review 1861 Abortion Law, stop early marriage and rape’ on Thursday 12th March 2015 at SLAJ headquarters, Freetown, Atilla said Sierra Leone women are not getting the justice they deserve.
He cited the case of a lady he called Zainab, whom he said was severely beaten by her husband, ‘a prominent lawyer’, but said the court only fined him a ludicrous One Million Leones. He said he was disappointed the women organizations in the country did not raise any serious and sustained alarm on that.
“Men who like to beat women are lazy men who can’t fight their fellow men,” said Atilla, urging women to stand up for what they believe.
He said everybody seems to blame the Ministry of Social Welfare for ‘doing nothing’; ‘but we are doing our best with limited resources’.
According to officials of the Ministry, they’ve only received 1.5% of their total budget allocation and this continues to hinder their activities.
“The one thing we can do is to collaborate. We can’t do everything, we need help,” said Atilla.
The deputy minister and former broadcaster called on the country’s women to empower themselves, not just politically.
“We want to see more women editors, station managers, women in the top cadre of the Army and Police, women engineers, women executives…And who knows, we might one day have a woman President,” he said.
He continued: “Empower yourself economically. Have your own bank account and be independent. That’s my message to all the women of Sierra Leone.”
Atilla also urged women and women organizations to be united in their approach to issues relating to their rights, welfare and well-being.
“You can only overcome your hurdles when you huddle together,” he admonished.
“I know what women can do. I lost my father when I was only 3 to 4 years old and my mother was the only pillar I could lean on to be who and where I am today,” recalled Atilla.
On the 1861 Abortion law, the deputy minister assured that it is being reviewed with development partners and the ministry will come out with a statement soon on that.
Meanwhile, he appealed to the media to do more to highlight cases of abuse against women and girls and design special programmes for their advancement.