On Tuesday 8th March, 2016, the women of Sierra Leone joined other women around the world to commemorate the International Women’s Day. From all backgrounds and from all persuasions, hardworking Sierra Leonean women turned out in large numbers and in many radiant colors that illuminated the the Miatta Conference Center at Brookfields, Freetown.
The theme for this year’s celebration was ”Pledge for Gender Parity” but to reflect the local context, it was modified into a ”Pledge for Parity For An Engendered Constitution”. 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. They therefore presented a position paper to President Koroma detailing their demands.
Whilst he acknowledged the need for gender empowerment, he emphasized the need for the protection of the rights of women and girls. The president described the International Women’s Day as a moment of reflection on progress made and the challenges relating to the attainment of gender equality.
He emphasized that the day offers a platform every year; to share experiences on how to overcome those 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;” adding; ”this year’s theme: ‘Pledge to Gender Parity’ could not have been a better challenge to our commitment to this aspiration”.
On the position paper which was presented by the First Lady, Mrs. Sia Nyama Koroma, the president said some of the issues have already been addressed, and called on the women to continue to support his efforts in promoting gender parity and women’s empowerment.
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 iniative.
The president renewed his commitment to support the education of girls and women. “We will continue to pay tuition fees for the girls. We will continue to pay tuition fees for women who want to pursue higher learning especially in the sciences, ” he assured.
He urged all to be honest and fight a honest fight for the good of all Sierra Leoneans. ”Hard work is crucial to achieving self sufficiency for everyone”, he said.
On the request for an engendered constitution, President Koroma emphasised the independence of the Constitutional Review Committee but said the ongoing review process offers an opportunity to address the issues affecting women in Sierra Leone. He urged the women to take advantage of the process by making a presentation on what they want in the new constitution.
The President also spoke on the controversial Abortion Bill saying that certain aspects are not clearly defined in the Bill. “The definition of who is a medical practitioner among others is not clear in the Bill and we have made our comments,” he stated.
But he reminded the audience that the right to life is an entrenched clause in the Sierra Leone constitution and that even though the country is a signatory to the Maputo Protocol, the due process should be followed to effect the necessary change.
The women also made representation to the president to appoint a female minister at the Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs which he promised to look into.
At the same time, President Koroma had a message for pregnant girls. They will continue to receive formal education without allowing them to mingle in the same class with other school going girls. “Let’s go back to the basics and protect our values and culture,” he stressed.
Whilst using the occasion to once again thank the women of Sierra Leone for their contribution in defeating the Ebola epidemic, President Koroma assured them that government will do all it takes to ensure their aspirations are reflected in the new constitution.