Category Archives: Social Issues

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Domestic Violence Poses Grave Dangers to Women in Sierra Leone

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One of the most common questions people ask of women who endure domestic violence, is “why do they stay with their abusive husbands or partners? Two recent cases in Sierra Leone provide answers to this question. One woman is dead … Continue reading

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MISS SIERRA LEONE 2018: IN DEFENCE OF OUR CONTESTING GIRLS

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Watching the video of the “Questions and Answers” portion of the recent Miss Sierra Leone 2018 beauty pageant was so painful, I had to watch it in small doses. Because of the love in my heart for each and every … Continue reading

A ROAR FOR WOMEN’S COLLECTIVE PUSH FOR CHANGE IN SALONE

Why are women in Sierra Leone not making any gains in political appointments or otherwise, in the New Direction administration of President Bio?

Sure, it’s been less than 100 days since President Bio was sworn in. Sure we need to give the guy a little bit of time to settle in and put his strategies in place. Sure these are the lame excuses the president’s supporters throw at you whenever you mention how little he has done for women so far.

As a popular Sierra Leonean proverb goes, “When you have been burnt by fire, you run when you see smoke.” Leaders in Sierra Leone have made empty promises to women far too long, we do not need 100 days to recognize empty promises that are not followed by immediate meaningful actions.

In less than 100 days, President Bio has demonstrated his ability to pave the way for his New Direction when it comes to issues and people that are relevant to him and his cabal. Of course, we have seen how he has wasted no time in appointing people that are close to him personally and politically. We have also seen how quick he is to take action when he cares to do so. A glaring example has been the recent sacking of the chief of the Anti Corruption Commission (ACC) who was appointed by his predecessor, Ernest Koroma.

Mr. Bio (right) and his predecessor Mr. Koroma

We have witnessed how quickly Mr. Bio replaced the ACC chief with his own choice, which was quickly followed by indictments of corrupt officials from the previous administration. All these actions were taken before the President attended the 31st Ordinary Session of the African Union Summit, where he acted as Chair of the Peace and Security Council.

These actions were important for Mr. Bio’s attendance, given the theme of the 2018 AU Summit, Winning the fight against corruption: A sustainable path to Africa’s transformation. In his speech at the summit, Mr. Bio admonished his colleagues, “Our words should be translated into action…” This former soldier knows what it means to translate words into action.

As far as we know, President Bio and his entourage, which was majority men, stared clear of the Joint AU-EU Women in Power Event at the 31st AU summit, which addressed “…the need to empower women politically as well as economically and to tackle gender-based violence and gender-specific health questions on a high-level panel.”

Of course, our all-male leaders did not travel all that distance to talk about women’s issues, which is not a priority on their New Direction agenda. During their attendance and since their return, the men have been praised in the media  for their speeches and their messages on corruption.

Sierra Leone Delegation at 2015 AU Summit

WHAT A DIFFERENCE REGIME CHANGE MAKES FOR WOMEN IN SIERRA LEONE!

As in the 2015 AU Summit delegation from Sierra Leone (above photo), there was one woman in the 2018 Sierra Leone delegation, but nothing has been heard from her or about her role at the summit.

Sierra Leone Delegation at 2018 AU Summit

So why has President Bio not put into action promises he made to women in his campaign and the manifesto for his New Direction?

Simple answer: Because Sierra Leone women are not Pushing for change as a collective!

The majority of women in the world who give birth do so through natural childbirth. And all women who have lived through the ordeal know that they could not have survived or saved their babies’ lives had they not PUSHED. It is how women have achieved any substantive change in societies in the West, and anywhere in the world where women have gained any significant progress in society.

Sierra Leonean women are experts at “pushing,” both in childbirth and for social issues. In a country with the most deplorable healthcare for pregnant women, it is by God’s Grace and women’s capacities to push their babies out of their wombs skillfully that is saving most women’s lives, and helping maintain the population of this nation.

Until international donors started doling money out to NGOs, in support of their hidden agenda to dismantle Sande/Bondo society, grassroots women had been well organized, with a grip on women’s collective “push” for social issues in their communities and our society.

In this “modern” NGO-intense era, however, it is ritzier for individual women to claim their sole championship of girls’ and women’s causes in the country, in order to gain favors with donors. The personal benefits of these individual championships, which are favored by international donors, are encouraging women to work individually and to compete with one another. This competition among women for NGO funding, and other personal gains, is causing women’s coalitions in Sierra Leone to die away.

Of course, the women’s wings of political parties exist to promote only what the men put on their agenda. They seldom join forces with other women on women’s causes; their advocacy for women, if any, is mostly limited to individual women within their parties or to promoted their parties’ agenda.

Even the current First Lady is banking on this culture of fragmentation among women by creating a separate group, the Julius Maada Bio Women’s Wing, within the women’s wing of her husband’s political party. This sort of fragmentation is pervasive among women throughout the country and in the diaspora.

First Lady Fatima Bio (Left) and actress Mercy Johnson (Right)

After recent newspaper reports that the President of Sierra Leone had hired his wife’s friend, Mercy Johnson, an actress from the Nigerian movie industry, to champion girls’ education and empowerment in Sierra Leone, there were a number of individual protests, including write-ups, audios, and video messages.

Unfortunately, these protest messages were mainly campaigns on behalf of individual Sierra Leonean women, being promoted as the “experts” who should be have been hired by the President to champion girls and women’s issues in the country, instead of bringing in a foreigner. There is yet to be a collective of women to challenge the President on his choice of a national advocate for girls.

The appointment of Ms. Johnson could be a wonderful opportunity for Sierra Leonean women to unite and speak in one voice, as we should all be disgusted at the President’s belittling of Sierra Leonean women’s capabilities, efforts and sacrifices over many years of promoting girls education and women’s empowerment.

And because the oppositions to the president’s appointment of Ms. Johnson have been fragmented and individualized, he and the first lady, who is believed to be behind Ms. Johnson’s appointment, have felt no push or pressure from Sierra Leonean women to retract their action.

The dangers of the president appointing a foreigner are numerous for girls’ education and the general empowerment of women in Sierra Leone. Only we the women of Sierra Leone, not the First Lady or any foreign woman, could impart this truth on the president; but he is not going to hear us when we speak in fragmented voices, only our collective voice will get through to him.

 

The main and most critical point here is that Sierra Leonean political leaders are unapologetic and unashamed misogynists. Regrettably though, women who tend to find more ways of disintegrating than ways of forming a formidable united front, are helping these leaders who have no interest or political will to empower women in Sierra Leone.

Until Sierra Leonean women everywhere start coming together as one, across tribal, regional, political and class lines, to agitate our misogynist leaders for change, there will be no socioeconomic or political progress for women in Mr. Bio’s New Direction nor in any subsequent administration in Sierra Leone.

It is time for Sierra Leonean women to decide: Either PUSH as a COLLECTIVE for REAL change or continue our individual championship bid, which maintains the current deplorable condition for women in Sierra Leone, regime after regime, after regime!

#SierraLeoneWomenCollective
#WeForSheSierraLeone
#CollectivePush4SaloneWomen

31 AU Summit in Mauritania: Women in Power Event

As our mainly male Sierra Leonean delegate marches into the 31 AU Summit in Mauritania, it is refreshing to watch an event focused on women in power and women’s empowerment. By the composition of the people who are there representing Sierra Leone, we know that gender equality is the least on their minds.

However, we hope that President Bio and his men entourage would learn a thing or two from this particular event, and return to Sierra Leone inspired to rethink their approach to gender equality in our nation.

As aptly put by Africa’s foremost Feminist President, Paul Kagame of Rwanda, “Gender equality is common sense.”

In our view, African leaders who fail to employ this common sense in their leadership are a failed leaders.

Source: Sabcnews.com

OPEN LETTER TO FIRST LADY OF SIERRA LEONE: GIRLS & WOMEN NEED A COMPASSIONATE FIRST LADY

By Fatima Babih

Dear First Lady Fatima Bio:

Congratulations on your husband’s victory at the 2018 elections in Sierra Leone!

I write this letter on behalf of the majority of women and girls in Sierra Leone, who are illiterate, living in abject poverty and are in dire need of a Compassionate First Lady; one who is willing and able to put aside personal ambition and fame to genuinely contribute to women’s struggle for socioeconomic, civil and political change in our beloved country.

First Lady of Sierra Leone Fatima Bio

First Lady of Sierra Leone Fatima Bio

As First Lady in a country where women are grossly disadvantaged and conditioned to seek redemption through men, you are automatically a role model; in an influential position to either perpetuate this caustic societal norm or contribute to making changes that would put women on a progressive trajectory.

I would, therefore, implore you to carefully choose how you proceed in performing your role as First Lady. As you navigate the limelight, please keep in mind the predicament of girls in Sierra Leone whose future rests on the shoulders of the generation of women before them.

Being the 5th First Lady in less than 50 years, a role that started with the wife of Siaka Stevens when her husband became the first president of Sierra Leone, your position has a relatively short history and practically no template for how to perform your role. Other than perceiving them as distant celebrities, the Sierra Leone public has generally not been privy to the work or activities of their First Ladies. There is no national narrative about how Rebecca Stevens, Hannah Momoh, Patricia Kabba and Sia Koroma performed their roles, nor is the role of the First Lady known to be a great source of respite for girl’s and women’s issues in our nation.

Former First Lady Sia Koroma

Former First Lady of S. Leone Sia Koroma

In her decade long tenure, your immediate predecessor, First Lady Sia Koroma, who was the first to come into her role in the era of the internet and social media, the public got to learn a little about her activities through her website and social media postings. Even so, little was known about Mrs. Koroma’s “initiates” and activities beyond Freetown.  Therefore, your predecessors have not set a trend for how the first lady’s role should be performed.

Is the lack of a model for the First Lady’s role in Sierra Leone a hurdle or opportunity for you to make meaningful contributions to women’s struggles? The answer to this question depends on which of two pathways you choose to proceed as Sierra Leone’s current First Lady: Famous First Lady or Compassionate First Lady.

Famous First Lady

A Famous First Lady is an ambitious woman who views her First Lady position as a performing stage for personal celebrity, as well as a pathway to achieving fame, fortune and political gains for herself and her husband. Should you choose to proceed as the Famous First Lady, your chances of contributing meaningfully to women’s empowerment in Sierra Leone will be diminished.

On the path of being a Famous First Lady, you will focus more on what makes you feel celebrated than what benefits women and girls; your face will be on television, newspaper front pages and your voice will be heard on the radio every day, claiming to champion the issue of the day.  You will endeavor to set the agenda for women’s development while using girls and women as pawns to gain favors with donors, the media, and the international community. Thereby diverting attention and resources from real gender issues, as well as draining vital donor funds that could help sustain legitimate organizations and institutions that have been working in the interest of girls and women for decades in Sierra Leone.

Furthermore, should you proceed on the path of the Famous First Lady, you will self-appoint as the sole arbiter of women’s agenda in your husband’s political party as well as the country. Given your closeness to political power through your husband, and our country’s dependence on donor funds for social programs, you stand to have a huge portion of resources in your control for girls and women.

Given such resource control, a Famous First Lady would be inclined to commandeer and spearhead gender empowerment activities that could be better managed by passionate and seasoned women’s empowerment organizations in Sierra Leone. Commandeering gender movements by a Famous First Lady jeopardizes decades-long struggles to foster sustainable paths to women’s advancement in our highly patriarchal society.

A Famous First Lady, therefore, is a false messiah that grassroots women would look up to as a savior. With a false messiah championing women’s agenda, there will be fragmentation among women and repression of women’s chances for progress in all areas of our society.

In this era of social media, choosing to take center stage and full control of programs and vital resources as a Famous First Lady would lead to disrepute for you worldwide, which would place you on the list of Famous First Ladies around Africa, who have historically strangled women’s empowerment by usurping vital resources for their personal ambitions and husbands’ party politics, at the expense and detriment of girls and women in their countries.

The Flashy Famous First Lady of Cameroon, Chantal Biya

The Flashy Famous First Lady of Cameroon, Chantal Biya

Former Famous First Ladies such as Mrs. Grace Mugabe of Zimbabwe, Mrs. Nana Rawlings of Ghana, Mrs. Stella Obasanjo of Nigeria, Mrs. Vera Chiluba of Zambia (the list could go on), have left nothing behind but their legacy of draining needed resources to promote their own fame and fortunes. These Famous First Ladies are not good role models for the First Lady of Sierra Leone to emulate, because women and girls in Sierra Leone are in such deplorable condition, we simply cannot afford or withstand a Famous First Lady.

Compassionate First Lady

The better option, in my view, is for you to proceed in performing your role as the Compassionate First Lady; a woman who understands the plights of girls and women in Sierra Leone and is ready and willing to contribute to making positive changes.

A Compassionate First Lady will not be focused on the glamour and celebrity of being First Lady, but strives for real results by lending vital support to strengthen organizations and institutions that are working to engender change in the lives of girls and women in Sierra Leone.

Should you choose the path of the Compassionate First Lady, you will have a great chance to develop positive synergy with existing women’s movements for advancement in our society and be a more effective First Lady for your husband’s administration and his political career.

President & First Lady of Sierra Leone

President & First Lady of Sierra Leone

Being a Compassionate First Lady, you would recognize that the political power and prestige you have today was granted first by the Almighty, and by virtue of you being the wife of the president of our beloved nation. As such, you are in a transient position of trust and must be a willing partner of gender empowerment institutions and organizations, through which you could contribute more sustainably to women’s struggle for advancement in Sierra Leone.

In a grossly patriarchal society, such as Sierra Leone, women are mainly able to gain political power and leadership through the favors of the male power brokers, which is why women’s self-sufficiency is not valued nor promoted in our society. Instead of aspiring for leadership, girls in Sierra Leone are conditioned to aspire to become wives or mistresses of men of means or power. But this social paradigm must shift in order for women to realize any significant advancement in Sierra Leone.

Though transient, your position as First Lady provides a window of opportunity to contribute to this needed change in our society; by performing your role judiciously, not just for self-promotion, but in genuine support of girls and women’s progress in our society, you will triumph as a Compassionate First Lady.

Whether your position impacts the lives of girls, women and all in our society positively or negatively would be determined by your choice to proceed either as the Famous First Lady or the Compassionate First Lady.

May the Almighty guide you in your role & bless women’s struggle in Sierra Leone!

 

 

NonRoaring Lionesses of Salone: The silence of women perpetuates their marginalization

Lionesses roar to mark their territory, call their cubs and send messages to would-be attackers. In other words, lionesses roar to communicate their stance and prowess to those within and outside their environment.

Not the lionesses in the pride of Mama Salone; women in Sierra Leone continue to silently endure marginalization, as one leader hands the country over to another.

As advocates and activists for girls and women in Mama Salone, one of the main factors we attribute to women’s silence and reluctance to call out injustices against their lot, is the society’s heavy-handedness in treating women who attempt to speak out and voice their stance on women’s issues.

Photo Source: Animalia-Life

Photo source: Animalia-Life.Club

If you are a Sierra Leonean who has not recently been called ‘imprudent, impatient and unrealistic,’ then you have not criticized President Bio’s slow pace to appoint women; which is in utter disregard for his campaign promise to bring change for women.

Every time the topic of Mr. Bio’s shortfall in appointing women comes up, ‘self-appointed defense ministers’ would quickly attack you, throwing at you all the words in the dictionary that describe you as ‘irrational,’ especially by people whose friends or family members are appointed.

The main justification usually given is that Mr. Bio’s government is too new to be assessed. But Mr. Bio, whose inauguration took place on May 12, 2018, has not put off appointing his political, financial and familial sponsors and supporters to key positions; including his friends, wives of his friends and friends of his wife.

Mr. Bio (Right) and his predecessor Mr. Koroma (left)

Mr. Bio (Right) and his predecessor Mr. Koroma (left)

Recently, we have seen many newspapers and social media postings, by disgruntled members of Mr. Bio’s Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) members, who have been complaining about Mr. Bio’s disregard for many of the active members of his party. Mr. Bio is allegedly not on speaking terms with some of the top officials of his party after his victory. Advocates have been urging him to consider appointing some of them.

Mr. Bio campaigned on a promise of a New Direction; however, there is nothing new about the direction of his appointment pattern for women. His predecessors appointed women to cabinet position on similar patterns. Mr. Bio is disregarding even the women in his party, who were the grassroots lifeblood for his victory.

Nonetheless, discord between Mr. Bio and his party is not our concern, as we are focused on women’s situation. We bring this issue up, however, to illustrate how other segments of society freely speak up when they believe they have been slighted, and how they advocate for their lot.

Not the marginalized women of Sierra Leone. There are hardly any newspaper or social media postings complaining about Mr. Bio’s scorn of women in his appointments; nor are there any concerted effort to push for women’s appointments generally.

Taking Mr. Bio’s pattern of appointment as a sign, he has so far failed to show his commitment to being the change he wants to see for women. With his colossal failure to set the right pace for women through his appointments, it is now up to women of Salone to take proactive democratic actions to change Mr. Bio’s not so new direction.

Otherwise, for the next five years, women will remain voiceless and continue to languish, in a country best known for high illiteracy among women, high rate of teen pregnancy, high rate of maternal and infant mortalities and the lowest representation of women in government, leadership, and non-agricultural labor force.

PRESIDENT BIO HAS MET 30% QUOTA FOR WOMEN’S REPRESENTATION: CLAIMED NEWLY APPOINTED FEMALE MINISTER

In an interview on AYV TV in Freetown, Dr. Memunatu Pratt, the newly appointed Minister of Tourism and culture, defended President Maada Bio’s slow pace in appointing women. Dr. Pratt argued that the president is “committed to gender equality and also committed to making sure that we immediately pass the 30% quota for women” (AYVTV.com).

How could the ordinary person who cannot read the president’s mind tell that he is committed to gender equality when out of 35 appointments, only 5 are women? It is only logical for majority marginalized women in Sierra Leone to expect the president to show his commitment to gender equality right from the start of his presidency.

In his campaign Manifesto, President Bio promised to, “Review and enact the minimum 30% Quota Bill, which creates the chance for women to hold 30% of positions in elective and appointive positions” (p. 47). This is a promise that gave women the confidence that should Mr. Bio win, not only would he enact this law that his predecessor failed to pass, but he would also set an example by appointing women, at the minimum, within the 30% threshold.

But the newly appointed female Minister, who has yet to commence her duties in office, argued that it is “too early for us to pass judgment” on the president based on his dismal regard to women in his appointments.

Dr. Pratt claimed that she was not just saying this because she has been appointed, but that given the number of appointees so far, “the 5 women he has appointed has met the threshold of 30%” (AYV TV)

Dr. Fatou Taqi, President of the 50/50 women’s organization, disputed Dr. Pratt’s claim and pointed out that the president appointing 5 women out of 35 appointments does not even come close to the 30% quota he promised.

It would have been less damaging to women’s cause in Sierra Leone if Dr. Pratt had stayed neutral; since she is a new appointee who does not know the president that well yet. But to go as far as making such a factual error, makes us wonder whether we could expect Dr. Pratt to support or advocate for women’s causes through her newly acquired power and voice in the current leadership.

We find Dr. Pratt’s warning for women to exercise patience as an attempt to silence women who would want to raise their voices and urge the president to keep to his promise. It is no secret that President Bio’s appointments so far have been mainly along political interest, for both male and female appointees.

When interviewed by AYV TV, the Press Secretary Mr. Keketoma argued that the president is not trying to appoint women just for “window dressing,” that he is looking for qualified women; suggesting that finding qualified women is challenging for the president.

Mr. Keketoma’s claim is also far from the truth. If truly the president is committed to gender balance in his appointments, finding qualified Sierra Leonean women to meet his 30% promise would not be any more challenging than finding qualified men.

We know for sure that the women appointed so far are well qualified and capable; however, we also know that they are politically connected. For instance, one of the 5 appointed women was the running mate for an opposition party; another is the wife of a Member of Parliament in President Bio’s party, etc.

In fact, all of President Bio’s appointments so far have been politically motivated, either as rewards for campaign support or as a trade for regional and other political gains. As we all know, there is that little nagging problem in Parliament, where the president’s party only has 33% of seats. We understand trading must take place.

But that is not our focus; we will continue to focus on the situation for women in President Bio’s appointments and other activities. We hope that the president would keep gender balance in mind as he continues his trading and rewarding appointments.