By Cyril Juxon-Smith
Stories of sexual harassment, macabre scenes and fearful tragedies between the sexes are more common today as society mirrors itself through the mass media. The spate of shocking media reports on gender based or sexual violence ought to be taken more seriously and the laws used to prosecute culprits and preserve the rights of victims. Talking about the laws, one of the ways of gauging the efficacy of the role of Parliament is by taking a close look at the laws she makes. Unfortunately, many of us do not find the time to do so until some peculiar need arises.
In 2012, the House enacted the Sexual Offences Act. From the first reading, it leaves a deep impression of a strong commitment by the state wherein it seeks at once to protect the rights of women and provide redress against abuse. Violence against women, whatever guises it assumes, has become a very sensitive issue; thanks to our lawmakers for strong laws, civil society for promoting knowledge of these laws through various media, the law enforcement agency for a robust enforcement regime and indeed, the courts for their interpretation.
There is growing awareness in African societies today, around the need to protect the rights of women. A few decades ago, what we now recognize as untenable and hair-raising, unethical and immoral, simply passed as a storm in a tea cup. Infact, senior functionaries simply went unscathed and charges of indecent behavior hardly made it beyond the front desk of the police station. Not so today. African societies have moved on and as rights groups advance their causes, the rest of society are emboldened to speak up and join the bandwagon for women’s emancipation.
Focal person for the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), Hon. Emma Kowa has meanwhile embarked on a determined outreach to several constituencies around the country. Initially, she led an IPU workshop and training at Parliament on ‘Building knowledge and Raising Awareness of Violence Against Women and Girls’, drawing from international resource persons to enrich the experiences of our law makers and strengthen their preparedness to act. For this, the Speaker’s office received special commendation and expression of gratitude from the IPU in Geneva. Not long ago, in Makeni and a few days ago, in Bonthe District, Hon. Kowa told Town Hall meetings that data from the Family Support Unit (FSU) of the Sierra Leone Police shows that violence against women and girls is on the increase.
But the message from Parliament is clear. Gender based violence can no longer be tolerated. While other MPs will be hosting similar meetings in constituencies across the country, the Female Caucus led by Patricia Browne, MP has been dealing with this issue by individual and group interventions. Judging from international and local scenarios, men in today’s society will do well to avoid gender based violence, including of course, sexual harassment and abuse of vulnerable women and girls. In today’s world, even “sacred cows” are in diminishing numbers.