Abdulai Mansaray: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 13 August 2020:
Priscilla Schwartz, a Sierra Leonean lawyer is the first woman to serve as Attorney General and Minister of Justice in Sierra Leone. Her appointment was greeted as a statement of intent by many – that Bio’s “New Direction” was serious about “a new direction”.
The Bible and the Quran teach us that the woman was made from the man. But throughout history, women have been fighting for equal rights with their male counterparts. The first time that women were given the right to vote was in 1881.
Ironically, women’s suffrage started in the Isle of Man, a part of Britain. That epoch-making year gave birth (pardon the pun) to the Universal suffrage, which granted women around the world the right to vote. Is it not ironical that such a right was first granted in the “Isle of Man”, literally island of man?
But women have continued and continue to fight for the right to be equal. In almost all walks of life, women have struggled to break the glass ceiling throughout the world. Even though there have been some breakthroughs, the fight still goes on and will continue to go on. Unfortunately, the level of such inequalities varies from country to country, from society to society and culture to culture.
From land ownership, leadership, inheritance, etc, our very own community has not been generously fair to our female counterparts. As for our political landscape, the title of “Mammy Queen” has been one of the few echelons of power traditionally reserved and bestowed on them. Even at that, their relevance is only noted during the campaign seasons.
In less than two months into his job, President Maada Bio sacked Charles Francis Margai as Attorney General (Photo). Many saw it like a political hurricane that had the potential to blow down the corridors of the SLPP. You can’t complete the story of the SLPP without mentioning the Margai Royal family; the founding fathers of the party.
So, sacking a Crown Prince of the SLPP was not only seen as a palace coup but also tantamount to political patricide. The quick appointment of Pricilla sounded like a soothing political balm for any perceived political injuries.
Priscilla was a first in that role, and with Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr as Mayor of Freetown (though not appointed by Bio) in the wings, a picture was beginning to take form on the political landscape.
President Bio was recognised with other world leaders as a HeForShe Champion in May last year, thanks to him reiterating his unwavering commitment to speak out, act and eliminate impunity in particular, rape of girls and women while addressing all forms of violence against women and girls.
Some saw as overzealous; that he was the outsider crying more that the bereaved when he declared a state of emergency on Rape in the country. Invoking the death penalty was considered a bridge too far by others. His wife, the First Lady Fatima Bio has championed several causes along this line, and her fingerprints are thought to be all over this push. Fatima has been very vocal and determined, though with some political whiplash at times.
So, when Priscilla was relieved of her duty, the coincidence with the dismissal of treason charges against Paolo Conteh seemed like an own goal for the government. Many concluded that her demise was the price she paid for her failure to get a conviction, thanks to the timing.
Others take comfort that this was down to a culmination of legal blunders made under her supervision. The SL mining licence was cancelled after the government embarked on scrutinising the agreements drawn up by the previous government. The ICC Emergency Arbitrator found the government’s cancellation unlawful and invalid. The loss of revenue for the government could not be overemphasised; especially against the backdrop of an economy that is on a life support machine.
Sylvia Blyden was detained on charges of sedition and defamation in relation to her social media posts. It would be contemptuous to comment on this now, as the case is ongoing. However, the government was ridiculed on social media when clips on social media purporting that one of the evidences against Sylvia was possession of a giant portrait of her dear leader Ernest B. Koroma.
There have also been some critical views about how the office of the Attorney general was being run, suggestive of ineptitude. To the man in the know, her dismissal was not a surprise.
Priscilla may not have had personal responsibility for some of these glitches. However, by virtue of her position she carries what many would refer to as corporate responsibility, hence the axe. But is this enough to dampen any confidence in the ability of our women to hold vital positions in our society?
Is this representative of women’s inability to perform in the pressure cooker? Should they be trusted with such important positions in the system? I believe that this saga should not serve as the litmus test for the ability of our women at all. If anything, men have and continue to disappoint us.
With Fatima Bio at the helm of most women issues, and thanks to the power of pillow talk, the hope is that the fight for women’s recognition will go on. In this 21st century, it will be a dereliction of service if there is a halt to this drive.
The hope is that the drive for gender equality will go on. Thankfully, this has been further demonstrated by the appointment of Victoria Conteh the Head Coach of the Under 20 National Team recently. And we also have Elizabeth Augusta Turay, the first woman to occupy one of the highest positions as Deputy Inspector General of police. Bravo, as things are looking up.
Priscilla may have not gone the whole nine yards. One swallow does not make a season. But we should not relent in the drive to elevate the women folk, as vital components of our society. “Gender equality is more than a goal in itself. It is a precondition for meeting the challenge of reducing poverty, promoting sustainable development, and building good governance” (Kofi Anan).
Joe Biden has just chosen Kamala Harris as running mate for the forthcoming American elections. Need any further proof?
Perhaps, the First lady could do with “No Woman Left Behind” as the new chorus. But for the legal side of things, Lef Dat gee De Courts.
We have tried the cowboys. Perhaps it is time to try the Indians. Do not forget to turn the lights of when you leave the room.