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International Women’s Day: Could President Koroma speak on the Safe Abortion Bill?

March 7, 2016 By Mohamed Massaquoi

President Koroma: women need frank talk from you
President Koroma: women need frank talk from you

The day is here again and our women will be hosting elaborate celebrations to mark International Women’s Day, 8 March.

The celebration brings women and women’s group together each year to throw light on the challenges and opportunities that confront them in society.

Some receive awards for their exploit over the years, although most recipients of awards are those highly placed in society, with impoverished women in remote communities seldom considered.

Often times I kept wondering about various strategies used by women organisations to campaign for their welfare in society. Whereas the ordinary  women  contemplate of getting food to eat and shelter to stay, educated women are busy organising events for the  celebration of International Women’s Day and how they can get awards, to either add to their CVs or to interact with state authorities.

For the past eight years, women have came up with a lot of campaigns either to strengthen their position in governance or other work places or to agitate for their rights to own property, among many other issues.

The rights of women are abused on a daily basis, especially in remote communities where law enforcement is either lacking or not in existence.

Injustice, improper medical attention for sexual victims, and poor remuneration for social workers are among some of the challenges faced by officers at the Family Support Unit of the Sierra Leone Police.

But all of these issues will definitely not come out during this all important ceremony, rather a celebration of achievements of outstanding women in politics, education, and business, among others will take centre stage.

Our womenfolk – mothers, sisters, wives – will be celebrating in poverty stricken Sierra Leone where an average woman cannot earn more than one thousand dollars annually. The political marginalisation of women is still rife, despite government making some provisions for women in various offices and government departments.

Why do we celebrate International Women’s Day when our women are still suffering as a result of marginaliSation? Government has enacted the Devolution of Estates Act, Domestic Violence Act, et al, but are these laws actually enforced?

A lot of promises have been made to the women of Sierra Leone without fulfilling them. Women’s equality in political governance was one of the trump cards used by this administration to come into office, but only one woman serves as full minister. A woman was recently removed from the House of Parliament and made Deputy Minister of State II in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation. Are these piecemeal gestures the so-called women’s empowerment?

I have been keenly following recent statements by the Minister of Gender and Children’s Affairs, Alhaji Moijua Kaikai, blaming the Constitutional Review Committee for not including the 30% quota for the women of Sierra Leone. It was the President Ernest Bai Koroma that promised the women in the southern district town of Moyamba that his government will ensure that women are given their rightful positions in governance.

Also in Pujehun, Kaikai emphatically stated that the President Koroma is not ready to ban female genital mutilation in the country, although some activists are against the practice.

Kaikai, according to the First Lady Sia Nyama Koroma, was to write to the Liberian government for the installation of modern laboratory for victims of sexual abuse, and he is still contemplating as to how he could write the letter!

The drama regarding the Safe Abortion Bill between President Ernest Bai and the Parliament still lingers on. The Bill, which was enacted by Parliament in December, last year, was initially not signed by President Koroma following concerns raised by members of Inter-Religious Council. The religious leaders called on the president not to sign the bill, stating they were not consulted. After two meetings with religious leaders at State House, the president sent the bill back to lawmakers for further consultations.

Leaders in the House held series of meetings with members of the Inter-Religious Council and various women groups who are in support of the bill. The religious leaders emphasised that the bill has fundamental flaws both in form and content. Rev. Archibald Cole therefore called on Parliament to expunge the bill from the shelves of Parliament.

According to State House Communication Unit, President Koroma informed the delegation that, “This is not a government initiated bill but a Private Member’s bill. I must say that I have also had representations, text messages and calls on the same issue and the Secretary to the President (SP) also presented a letter to me by a congressman from the US expressing similar views on the same matter. But we have always consulted with you on matters of national importance,” he told the gathering of religious leaders.

The president said he will refer the matter to Parliament in order for them to hold consultations with the Inter-Religious Council of Sierra Leone and pointed out that the Speaker would forward concerns by religious leaders to Parliament in order to review the bill without even coming back to him.

“Religious leaders represent a huge constituency across the country. I will ask Parliament to put a hold on the bill pending discussions on the issue. I will not give assent now but will send it back to Parliament,” President Koroma assured.

Many Sierra Leonean women want the president to make an official statement on the issue as they are confused about the drama between State House and Parliament. And there cannot be a better day and moment to do say, than International Women’s Day.

Over to you President Koroma.

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