Ex-Gender Adviser wants sex offenders  hang

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December 3, 2018

By Ishmael Sallieu Koroma

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Ex-Gender Adviser to President Ernest Bai Koroma has urged the government to introduce the death penalty for sexual offenders, calling for affirmative action to end Sexual and Gender-based Violence (SGBV’s) in the country.

Naasu Fofanah made the above statement last Friday during a public debate hosted by the Sierra Eye Magazine on the motion ‘women’s organisations and the Government have not been instrumental in reducing gender based sexual Violence’ at the Lagoonda Entertainment Complex, Aberdeen, Freetown.

Ms. Fofanah said even though she is an ardent disciple of human rights, one individual’s rights stop where another person’s right begins, thus the need for punitive measures against sexual violence perpetrators.

She blamed successive governments in the country for not being serious and committed to championing girls issue and in ending SGBV’s in the country.

“We have to be open; I’m speaking out of experience. I was Sexual and Gender Adviser at State House for three years, and I saw these men congregated to ensure that anything that has to do with women and women’s empowerment, especially sexual violence, will be deterred. I fought battles with them,’’ Madam Naasu revealed, adding that support to the Family Support Unit (FSU) of the Sierra Leone, which investigates sexual offences and prosecute perpetrators, is negligible, thus undermining their efficacy.

The chairperson Women of Wanjama (WOW) said President’s Bio’s recent promise to end SGBV’s was strong, thus encouraging him to live by that promise and to be an exemplary leader the country will forever remember.

Also, Anita Koroma, Founder Girl Child Network (GCN), who also spoke on the same motion as Madam Naasu, government, women’s organisation and even international bodies aren’t serious about ending SGBVs.

“Are we really serious about women’s empowerment in Sierra Leone? The justice system is still not that strong enough to deal with sexual cases like the one I cited which has been [in court] for four years,” she said.

She averred that the Ministry of Social Welfare, which is supposed to help women advocacy groups, has failed to lend support, adding whenever they are asked to help they complain about lack of money.

‘’Local women’s organisations, are we really serious about ending SGBV? The answer is no! Not Everybody in the field knows what they are doing, everybody can just wake up in the morning and have an organization, doing what?,’’she queried, adding that some don’t have what it takes to set up these organization .

On her part, Tania Sheriff of the 50/50 Group, who spoke against the motion, said women’s organisations and the government have been instrumental in reducing sexual violence, adding that women’s advocacy groups are known for advocating on girls and women’s issues and empowerment.

Ms. Sheriff said through the advocacy and works of women’s organisations, the govenmnet has signed many regional and international treaties, including the Maputo Protocol and the development of women and girls rights in the country.

“Women’s organisations have served as a pressure group and have held government accountable for the last twenty years,’’ she said

The 50/50 Group representative further opined that women played key role in the passage of the three Gender laws, adding that without them issues of women wouldn’t have been known as today rape and domestic violence are being discussed and people are openly coming forward to report them.

Ms. Sheriff, who also head the Rainbow Initiative that treats and provides services to survivors of SGBVs, said a multi-sectorial approach has be employed to solve the problem, including working with the Ministry of Education, Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Social Welfare, among others.

She said SGBV’s could not be tackled by one ministry or organisation alone, adding that civil society and other players should come on board to end this social malaise.

Fatmata Sorie, Chairperson of Legal Access through Women Yearning for Equality Rights and Social Justice (LAWYERS), who also spoke against the motion, said women’s’ organisation and the government have been instrumental in reducing gender-based violence in the country.

Ms. Sorie, a private legal practitioner, said her organiation has been providing free legal services to women and girls by protecting, promoting and advocating for their rights, adding that so many groups across the country have been playing a huge part in ending SGBV.

“Since taking over the leadership of LAWYERS, we have had tremendous number of cases with women coming in and girls and children. Just before this evening, I had another five-year-old case,’’ she said, adding that it was hurtful that children do not have space to grow up and reach their fullest potential as evidenced by woman running to their secretariat every day, sometimes with blooding dripping from them.

She said women’s organisations have worked side-by-side with government in compiling statistics and those statistics have been used by institution to challenge government, adding that tremendous strides have been made, though there are still challenges.

Some of the recommendation from the debate include to set up a forensic lab in the country to deal with SGBV cases properly and effectively, setting-up of an expert group on SGBV, headed by an expert, and to establish fund for women and girls, to name a few.

The debate was moderated by BBC journalist Umaru Fofana, and the event was sponsored by Mercury International, the sport betting company.