A nation that neglects its women neglects it’s welfare – Op ed

Dr Samura Kamara: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 8 March 2021:

Today, 8th of March is International Women’s Day – a day set aside to celebrate our womenfolk. It is also a day to applaud women who have shown extraordinary courage and tenacity in breaking the social, political and cultural barriers to emancipate themselves and become shining examples to their peers and the younger generation.

It’s a day we remember those who struggle every day to keep their families going and highlight the struggles of those who barely survive.

The theme for this year’s celebration; “Women in leadership; achieving an equal future in COVID -19 world” cannot be more relevant than now – a time the world battles against a pandemic that continue to have devastating consequences on our social and economic fabrics.

As the pandemic keeps on having its toll on the world economy, growth opportunities for women become even more limited and our quest for equal opportunities for women is clearly being thrown into peril.

Already, there are countless stories of our womenfolk who have got to endure inordinate hardship to keep on going like Mamusu Conteh, a widow at Petifu Mayawa, Northern Sierra Leone. Mamusu would leave her house in the morning to work at an oil palm plantation where she would be paid in kind – half a gallon of palm oil.   She would have to convert the palm oil into cash by selling some of it at a nearby market for Le8, 000 (less than One Dollar). This will make up her daily income which is grossly inadequate to feed her children who are either malnourished or permanently hungry.

Constantly, she would have to augment whatever cooking items her meagre income could buy by sourcing other ingredients like salt and maggie from the benevolence of relatively better – off neighbors.

For many of us from humble backgrounds, the above narrative is an all too familiar story – of the struggles thousands of women have got to routinely endure to keep their families together. It is a vivid illustration of the unimaginable sacrifices by our less fortunate female compatriots in the face of increasing economic uncertainties and a disease that threatens our very existence.

The challenges to women’s empowerment are not limited to economic inequality. Political representation is an equally thorny issue.  The widely discussed policy for a 30% quota for female Parliamentary representation has been farfetched despite some significant gains made in that direction since 2007.

We agree that the need for women to take up leadership positions and participate in the decision-making process is as critical as our overarching aim to live in peace and prosperity, but we need to make the environment conducive and even attractive for their participation.

The violent and toxic dimension characterising our politics does not incentivise our womenfolk if anything it repulses them.

There is also the critical element of education. We cannot achieve equality for women without laying the foundation for an enlightened female leadership. To this end, educational opportunities for women in viable subject areas will prepare them for leadership roles.

And this requires affirmative actions and deliberately harnessing the opportunities in the fields of IT, science and commerce for their empowerment. Perhaps, we should start exploring the possibility of reviewing our school and university curricular as an adaptive measure to embrace technology and innovation for female students.

And there is the elephant in the room – the health of our womenfolk. Studies after studies have come out with the rather embarrassing conclusion that our country is a dangerous place to be a woman.

To bring life, too many Sierra Leonean women lose their lives and or their babies or end up with life – long complications. 1 in 17 mothers has a lifetime risk of dying in connection to childbirth.

Our nation’s maternal mortality rate among the highest in the world with 1,360 mothers dying in every 100,000 live births.

The mortality rates of neonates, infants and children under five are also amongst the highest globally at 34, 82, and 111 deaths per 1,000 live births, respectively.

These figures are unacceptable and addressing this calamity must be front and center of government priorities. The focus should be on more and better equipped and better managed hospitals, more training and better conditions of service for our health workers.

Monies spent on tea and fuel and needless super salaries of countless partisan employees could be better spent in the health sector. And while the private sector must be enabled to fully participate as well, government must make more substantial and sustainable investments in the health of its citizens.

It is easy to keep reminding ourselves about the incredible role women continue to play in the advancement of our society and closer to home, we can easily relate to women like Zainab Bangura, Justice Samba and even Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala who recently became the first African and first woman to serve as Director –General of the very powerful World Trade Organization (WTO).

The heavy lifting, however, is to lay the foundation for such admirable progress for many more women through education, better health services and safer political participation.

Yes, some progress has been made policy-wise as in the enactment, for example, of the Three Gender Acts. The Domestic Violence Act of 2007, The Devolution of Estate Act and the Registration of Customary Marriage Act of 2018, no doubts represent a bold attempt at not only guaranteeing the protection of women but also streamlining the legal frameworks that have hitherto proven to be the bastions of discrimination against women in Sierra Leone.

However, the question as to whether we have been able to fully implement the very brilliant provisions in those Acts lingers on.

Is it not ironical that the state which has the responsibility to protect the rights and freedoms of its citizens has been rather complicit in the injustices women face simply because of the lack of courage to bring out the perpetrators for some parochial social and political reasons?

As stories of women allegedly ganged raped in Kailahun, Pujehun and Bonthe Districts go uninvestigated, the silence of civil society over such matters has been annoyingly worrying.

Whilst the government may have done well to establish a special court for rape victims, we are still miles away from any serious action taken against the real perpetrators.  And there are some sections of the public that believe that politics should not be allowed to undermine trust in the much-needed judicial action against the menace of sexual violence.

Can this day remind every critical stakeholder of their responsibility to ensure that we adopt a paradigm shift in our modus operandi on women’s issues?

As we commemorate this day, the government needs to get serious and be genuine in addressing issues of inequality and women empowerment, not least on the ‘bread and butter’ issues, as exemplified by women like Mamusu Conteh of Petifu village in Tonkolili and many others like her at Dove Cut, Abacha Street, Bombay Market, Krootown Road Market, Lumley Market.

Too many of our grassroots women are all around at market centers daily eking out a living for themselves and their households. Too many dying trying to give birth, too many confronted with sexual and gender-based violence.

Therefore, as we mark this special day, we should not just celebrate the glimpses of successes rather; we must reflect more poignantly on how we can better serve the needs of the extraordinary Sierra Leonean woman and girl and explore better ways to empower them.

A country that neglects its women neglects its own welfare and undermines its progress.

Happy International Women’s Day celebrations to all Women in Sierra Leone and across the world.

About the author

Dr Samura Kamara is the 2018 Presidential election candidate for the All People’s Congress (APC) Party in Sierra Leone.

5 Comments

  1. I personally can’t wait to see this man as the flagbearaship for APC, come 2023 presidential polls. I know that, he’s fighting hard, going all out doing everything possible regardless. Sierra Leoneans would never forget the question and answer from Mr. Samura Kamara “who is to be blamed for the collapse of the economy? The answer was the government” and who was in charge at the time? Most probably EBK will run again in 2023, hahaha lol. Though nobody ever mentioned our iconic fellow musician (Emmerson’s) last powerful music he produced, after the 2018 poll. I guess “all man gladi de pa dae kam go” humm was powerful. My megabyte is going down rapidly. Thanks

  2. “Resettlement of slaves”, As far as I remember, these were black British troops, who had fought in the American war of Independence, serving in the pioneer regiment, who were resettled in Canada and Freetown.

    • Never mind Mr. Leo Africanus, whether these were former black British soldiers, who helped the British to fight the American civil war, and then ended up in Nova Scotia in Canada, a British colony at the time. This was after the defeat of the British by the Americans, helped by the French, hence the statue of liberty in New York, which was a gift from the French. The Maroons of Jamaica became one of the first enslaved people to rebel against their slave masters in the sugar plantations.

      In the process they took to the hills overlooking the Island, and were captured by the British and sent to Freetown because of the rebellious tendencies. Better still the black men and women who found their way to the United Kingdom after, Lord chief justice Mansfield declared any enslaved person that set their foot in the UK becomes a Freeman. That was the year 1772. The majority of those Black men and women were sleeping rough in the street of London and Deptford in South London.

      Then came William Wilberforce, and Thomas Clackson, who both petitioned the British Parliament and the British public to help resettle these people back to Africa, that how Freetown came to be. It didn’t stop there – the British set up their Navy in Hastings in Freetown to intercept slaves ships in the mid Atlantic. That is why we have the Krio language. It is a melting pot of all tribes and people who were affected by that barbaric trade that came up with this unique language, that has helped unite all of us. Otherwise I do not how I as a Fulani would have able to communicate with say for example my Limba, Mende Yalunka, Temne and Gola people.

  3. I wish all the women in Sierra Leone and around the world a happy international women’s day. As you celebrate this day, may God continue to grant you the courage and passion for humanity. The issues are enormous to address for you women so likewise the problems you encounter. But with your courage and passion for humanity, the world is what it is today.

    God created the world and made man first. God later considered that man must have a woman by him. That is how the world started biblically. So therefore, my message to all women is for you to consider men themselves as being courageous as you are, in a bid to make the world a better place for us all. Successful women who made their mark to help the world become a better place for us all are so many. Emerging ones that are emulating their predecessors are also many. I want to thank you all. Once more, I wish you happy international women’s day.

  4. As we celebrate women’s day around the world, and in particular Sierra Leonean women’s rights, and how far we have come in helping shape that narrative, both in terms of enacting legislation in promoting, and protecting women in our societies, trapped in some cases in cultural and misogynistic societal constraints, and denying them the tools, like education and economic empowerment, to help them break the glass ceiling barriers. We have to accept that there has been progress, but not enough progress as we would like it to be. As Dr. Samura rightly pointed out in his opinion piece, we still have some ground to cover, to truly say Sierra Leonean women have claimed their rightful place in our cultural hierarchical societies and how they are treated.

    Historically, Sierra Leonean women have always played an active role, both politically and economically in our societies. The establishment of the province of Freedom back in 1787, which ceded land to the British for the resettlement of slaves, one of the signatory of that pact was a Sherbro Queen Yamacounba. In recent years we have, Dr. Bylden, and Mrs Zianab Bangura actively shaping the debate and discussion we need to have. Women has always played an active role in our country. Nevertheless and despite being one of the first British colonies to grant women the right to vote in the 1700s, today women’s representation in our Parliament is still one of the lowest around the world.

    Women bear the brunt of poverty and exclusion in our societies. Introducing the idea of affirmative action, will be a way of redressing the issue. One of the areas we have to look at, is their representation in parliament. The numbers game. Maybe a 40% quota for women. This is important because, the Wells of Parliament is where bread and butter issues are decided. We need our mothers and sisters at that table to help make those calls.

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