Source: Public Agenda
A Sierra Leonean Member of Parliament and women empowerment advocate has acknowledged the fact that Sierra Leone as a country has a long way to go, especially in respect of women's empowerment and human rights.
Hon. (Mrs.) Dr. Barnadetta Lahai, who was speaking at a brainstorming session on a research findings on women's wellbeing in Ghana recently, lauded the giant strides Ghana had made in respect o f promoting women's rights in this 21st Century and noted that it offered useful lessons for the people of Sierra Leone.
"I must say that in terms of advocacy, women's rights and empowerment, Ghana has taken the lead in the West African sub-region and we are taking inspiration from you."
She was full of praise for the researchers, Pathways of Women Empowerment, for good work done in bringing out relevant issues on women.
"From my observation, your researchers have given us good indicators of how your women are being treated and positioned. Let me say that there are better organized NGOs, Civil Societies and institutions that are independent enough to fight for women's rights and I must say I am so enthused and impressed."
The decade long war of Sierra Leone, she revealed, left in its trail incalculable destruction relative to the physical, social and emotional condition of many Sierra Leoneans.
"Most females in Sierra Leone are less educated, marginalized, diseased from rape and defilement or have mental derailment," she lamented.
Hon. Lahai disclosed that the United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1325 has not been implemented to the fullest due to the male chauvinistic tendencies and the fear of female assertiveness.
"I was so mad when a woman who heads the Gender Ministry was removed and replaced by a man; and as I talk, the man has been removed and has not been replaced so far!"
The Gender Ministry, according to her, gets the least of budgetary allocation of just 0.2% of GDP among all the Ministries in Sierra Leone.
She regretted that, so far very little of MDG 3 that deals with women's right has been implemented. "There's no policy direction or document at the Gender Ministry to show the way forward."
She said as a female, she had not had it easy. "When I won my seat, my male counterparts turned to tease and called me names but I made up my mind and decided to face the opposition and all the oddities."
She attributed the success she had achieved so far in Parliament to her fortitude and determination, and thanked God I am a toast of the house in all debates.
Hon. Lahai disclosed that, Sierra Leone still retains the Criminal Libel Law on its statute books and this checks the abuse of free expression. She said after 2002, there had been a proliferation of the media organisations.
"The media have specialized in personal attacks, character assassination, instead of writing on issues for national development; so the people think the law must remain to check them."
Asked about her personal opinion about the media she said, "Well, we need the freedom of the media but they (media) must live above reproach and mediocrity."
The legislator spoke so passionately about the need for all African leaders to treat women issues with the greatest urgency it needs to accelerate growth and development.
"So long as some of us are alive, we shall fight tooth and nail to place the African woman where she belongs because God created men and women equal," she said.
She said Sierra Leone is a patriarchal society and only men could be installed as chiefs in communities; thus women have very little chance of inheritance. The matter is worse if that woman's father did not marry her mother; in that case she is classified as a bastard and could not be part of that family, unlike Ghana where a female can also lay claim to the fathers property or estate.
However, Hon. Lahai initimated that, there was going to be a referendum before general elections in 2012, women groups and organizations have proposed that those inhibitive practices against women be outlawed.
She heads the committees of Transport, Industry, Communication, Energy, Science and Technology in Parliament. She is also a member of the ECOWAS Parliament in Abuja in Nigeria; she is the Ranking Member on Gender issues.