Chadia Talib-Bo, Southern Sierra Leone
If we (Sierra Leone) as a nation are serious about realizing the Millennium Development Goals and also about the general wellbeing of our country, we collectively must make a millennial offer. A key step in that direction is giving women due access to every sphere of society particularly so at the political arena.
Such a move will not only make women feel safe and secured, but it also will open the way for them to contribute effectively by showcasing their talents as equal partners in nation advancement.
Women must be let to exercise their God-given rights to associate, assemble and participate. They must, above all, be respected.
A core principle of democracy demands the unhindered participation of all, including women. Women’s involvement in politics does not mean merely supporting one party or the other or voting for this or that candidate. It also means having women, too, vying for political positions alongside men, and not being discriminated against based on their gender, either by the electorate or in the process of appointments to political positions.
Elections after elections we see Sierra Leonean women being relegated to performing menial chores for politicians such as cooking, singing and dancing at political rallies, campaigning and organizing meetings.
In conflict situations such as civil wars, women become primary targets for all forms of abuses, specifically because combatants viewed them as the cohesive force of society that should be crushed if they should invoke terror, weaken and defeat their enemies.
However, whenever there is genuine desire for peace-making following conflicts, warring parties consider it important to get women involved as mediators and peacemakers, knowing that they bring to the process the deep sense of humanity that is lacking in the mindset of the warring parties.
This speaks to the fact that even those who are bent on suppressing women, always, are very much aware that women’s inputs are equally essential to the success and vitality of every human community. Notwithstanding, the male-dominating political class of the world continues to ignore this fact just so to keep women at the bottom and discard them once their goals have been achieved.
Instead, the derogatory term of women being the ‘weaker sex' - structured in bogus definitions -continues to be used to classify womanhood. And, there is little effort to free the world of that patriarchal-grip, which still keeps women dependent on men, economically and otherwise.
It will be unfair not to credit the country for taking steps in empowering women especially lately with the appointments of some into leadership positions. However, that has not translated much into addressing the problems that plaque their full entry into the political realm.
A series of resolutions have been passed at various International conventions. The Elimination of all forms of Violence against Women (CEDAW-1991) and the Convention on Civil and Political Rights (CCPR) are two examples. But we are yet to see full enforcements of many of these laws. The bulk of them remain mere color-scribbling on white papers.
The United Nations defines violence against women as any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in physical, sexual or mental harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.
But words in themselves are not enough to deliver. Sierra Leone must establish a separate parliamentary committee on women’s affairs; one that also guarantees their involvement in politics. We must let actions speak.
Countries like Rwanda, Pakistan, Spain and Sweden have made tremendous strides in addressing the issue. We owe it to ourselves, to our country and to future generations. We must take the lead.
The many difficult challenges our women contend with, daily, have been sending negative signals to a great number of them particularly those who want to venture into politics.
All we need to do is ensure that women get the freedom and protection due them to participate fully in politics. And NOW is the time to act. We cannot afford to prolong the effort any further
Chadia Talib is a writer, Women’s right advocate and entrepreneur. She lives in Bo. Southern Sierra Leone.