March 10, 2016 By Memunatu Bangura
As Sierra Leonean women joined others across the world to celebrate International Women’s Day Tuesday, 8 March, President Ernest Bai Koroma gave a hint of his unwilling to sign the Safe Abortion Act, as he cautioned that the right to life was an entrenched clause in the constitution of Sierra Leone which should be protected.
He noted that though Sierra Leone was a signatory to the Maputo Protocol, to effect the needed changes, process should be made judiciously.
“Certain aspects [of the Safe Abortion Act] are not clearly defined in the Bill. The definition as to who is a medical practitioner, among others, is not clear in the Bill. We have made our comments,” he stated.
The president had refused to assent to The Safe Abortion Act, 2015, which was pioneered by a ruling party lawmaker and enacted by Parliament. He returned the Act to the House for “consultation” after religious leaders who are vehemently oppose the Act met him at State House early this year.
However, after holding consultations with both pro and anti abortionists, it was expected that Parliament would vote on the Act, as stipulated by the 1991 Constitution, but they again sent it to the president, who is yet to sign it, despite being urged to do so by activists at home and abroad.
Hundreds of women gathered at Miatta Conference Centre, Brookfields in Freetown to observe International Women’s Day, a day after the Minster of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs and his deputy, Alhaji Moijuej Kaikai and Mustapha Bai Atila were sacked, after they public brawled on the eve of the celebration.
The celebrations went on though without the duo, with the First Lady, Mrs. Sia Nyama Koroma, joining the women, on a day declared as public holiday, to present various petitions to the president.
The president described the day as a moment of reflection on progress made and the challenges relating to the attainment of gender equality in Sierra Leone.
“It is clear that Sierra Leone’s women are seizing on the ongoing constitutional review process to advocate for empowerment through the constitution. They want gender parity to be provided for in the reviewed constitution,” he said.
President Koroma acknowledged the need for gender empowerment, thus emphasising the need for the protection of the rights of women and girls.
He noted that the day offers a platform each year to share experiences on how to overcome challenges and how to better implement plans for the coming year.
“It offers us the moment to renew our commitment to the unstoppable forward match towards the achievement of our collective aspiration of gender parity and this year’s theme: ‘Pledge to Gender Parity’ could not have been a better challenge to our commitment to this aspiration.”
President Koroma encouraged women to stand up for their rights and follow up on any acts of abuse or rape against them. He went on to note that women should monitor and report cases of corruption in the implementation of the free health care initiative.
He pledged his commitment to supporting women and girl child education in the country, adding that his government would continue to pay tuition fees for girls in secondary schools.
President Koroma further promised pregnant girls that they would continue to receive formal education.
Meanwhile, pro-abortionists should be deeply concerned with the statement of the president as it is the clearest indication yet that he will side with the anti-abortionists, who draw largely from the Inter-Religious council of Sierra Leone and traditionalists.