By Samuel J. Kargbo
Speaker of Sierra Leone’s Parliament, Hon. S.B.B. Dumbuya, yesterday said he was hopeful that a host of gender justice laws passed by MPs would protect women and end “barbaric and abominable acts” perpetrated against them.
He was speaking during a workshop on gender-based violence organized by Members of the Parliamentary Oversight Committee on Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs, in collaboration with the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) held at the Parliamentary Committee Room No. 1.
The workshop, which had participants drawn from parliamentarians, civil society organizations, the Family Support Unit, and women’s organizations, was themed: “Gender-Based Violence Sensitization and Awareness Raising Campaign”.
Sierra Leone passed a set of progressive laws described by gender activists and human rights campaigners as ‘gender justice laws’ because they provide wide range of protection to women and girls, hitherto largely marginalised and prejudiced by customary law and practice. They include, the Domestic Violence Act, Devolution of Estates Act, and the Registration of Customary Marriages and Divorces Act, all of 2007, and the Sexual Offences Act, 2012.
Hon. Dumbuya said the workshop was important because it dealt with issues of women and girls, and urged that participants should recognise the role of women in development because “for far too long, women have been neglected”.
Focal Person for the Inter-Parliamentary Union, Hon. Emma Kowa, reiterated the need to support programmes that promote the right of women in especially post-conflict nations. She said the Sierra Leone Parliament has ratified laws and domesticated international conventions that ensure women’s rights are being protected, and their conditions ameliorated.
IPU Programme Officer, Brigitte Filion, noted that since 2008 the IPU has been working with Sierra Leonean lawmakers to propagate issues of violence against women as the eleven year civil war largely devastated the lives of women in all forms, socially and psychologically.
Senior Programme Officer at Raising Voices, Nancy Abwola, expressed hope that the passage into law of the Domestic Violence Act, Sexual Offences Act, the Child Rights Act, among others, would to a large extent contribute to changing perceptions about and attitudes towards women.
Country Manager, UN Women, Sierra Leone Country Office, Melrose Kargbo, said that violence does not only have negative consequences against women, but could equally undermine their participation in governance and nation-building. She categorised the various forms of violence against women as cultural or communal violence, sexual violence, structural violence, and that they collectively tightened the space that would enable women’s participation in decision making.