May 24, 2018 By Jariatu S. Bangura
Women parliamentarians across the political divide have called for the immediate enactment of the Gender Equality Bill into law and institutionalising the 30% quota to help increase the number of women in governance.
The call was made during a training workshop organised by Internews, a California-based NGO partnering with USAID and Consortium for Elections and Political Process Strengthening (CEPPS) to capacitate journalists covering parliament and post-elections reporting.
The women parliamentarians were invited as special guests to address twelve media practitioners from Kono, Kailahun, Kenema, Bombali and Western Area.
According to Hon. Zainab Kathrine Tarawally of the main opposition All People’s Congress (APC), the major obstacle preventing women MPs from promoting the Gender Equality Bill is Section 77(K) of the 1991 Constitution, which provides that “A Member of Parliament shall vacate his seat in Parliament if he ceases to be a member of the political party of which he was a member at the time of his election to Parliament …”
Dilating on the legal dilemma further, Hon. Tarawally said if a woman MP was perceived to be supporting a bill against her political party’s wish, she might face possible expulsion from her political party and consequently lose her seat in Parliament.
She noted that to guarantee seats for women parliamentarians a lot more needed to be done.
“If all these things are done, we will cross the road. We need you, the media, and CSOs to push and help us grow. Make us unique and a better nation,” she urged.
Hon. Rebecca Yei Kamara from the Coalition for Change (C4C) party noted that there was strong need to advocate for more women in politics. The only C4C female lawmaker said political parties have a responsibility to promote women in politics and governance by awarding more party symbols to them.
The MP representing Constituency 29 in Kono district emphasised that quite often than not women are given party symbols in constituencies where the party doesn’t have strong political base and thus undermine their wining.
“On the contrary, men are given party symbols in areas where they can easily win elections due to strong political support for that party. In the end, you see many male MPs and few female MPs. That is the logic. Political parties often claim that they do give many party symbols to women but because of these challenges only very few of these candidates would end up winning,” she said.
She re-echoed the need to work in the interest of women, thus calling on her colleague MPs to put hands on deck to expunge section 77(K) from the constitution and push for the enactment of the Gender Bill and the 30% quota.
“Unfortunately for us, the last government failed to enact the Gender Bill and the 30% quota. There is need for change or rephrase of [Section 77k] in order for us not to be constrained in carrying out our mandate and responsibility to represent our people. All political parties should create a space where women are given at least 30 seats in their strongholds and not the other way around,” she said.
Independent Member of Parliament, Hon. Emilia Lulu Tongi, representing Constituency 001 in Kailahun district, said the issue of party symbols should not be over-emphasised and that it should not be a criterion for women to be involved in politics, but instead more emphasis should be put on advocating for women that are competent and can perform better.
She urged the government to improve the situation of women representatives by not just by awarding them party symbols, but appointing them to plump positions.
Following the general elections this year, only 15 women were elected through direct votes, just one more than the last parliament.