|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Press Conference on Progress towards Building Peace in Sierra Leone
While Sierra Leone was emerging as a remarkable success story for post-conflict reconstruction, it still required sustained support in order to complete that process, especially in enhancing the role of civil society, women in particular, the head of the Peacebuilding Commission’s configuration for the West African country said today at Headquarters.
“Sierra Leone is now a stronger, more democratic country,” John McNee, (Canada), head of the Sierra Leone country configuration, said during a press conference where United Nations officials and civil society representatives expressed their views on the country’s progress towards building peace. He underscored the need for stronger participation by women in government and politics.
Joining Mr. McNee were Michael von der Schulenburg, Executive Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Integrated Peacebuilding Office in Sierra Leone, and three representatives of civil society: Jabbie Kabbah, President of the All Political Parties Women Association; Marie Marilyn Jalloh, Member of Parliament and Secretary-General of the Association; and Isha Josiah Kamara of the Women Support Solidarity Group.
Echoing Mr. McNee’s assessment, Mr. von der Schulenburg described Sierra Leone as a “truly evolving democracy”, where elections had become the norm, despite some “hiccups”. While much of the Peacebuilding Commission’s earlier focus had been on the various electoral functions and management bodies, it was now emphasizing women’s participation in political decision-making as key in consolidating Sierra Leone’s democracy. “You will hear from them,” he said, underscoring the goal of a 30 per cent quota for women’s participation in the national Parliament and at the district and local levels in the 2012 elections.
Ms. Kabbah said the All Political Parties Women Association had been created as a response to the gap between the proportion of women in society, which today stood at 51 per cent, and the 12 per cent making up their representation in Parliament. A “novelty in Africa”, the Association marked the first time that women from all political parties had joined together to speak with one voice, increase their participation in representative bodies and hold leadership positions. “The women of Sierra Leone are ready to take the mantle of power, but we need support,” she said, noting that poverty and a lack of education stymied their aspirations and ideas. She stressed the importance of capacity-building and education in increasing women’s participation, which in turn would increase development.
Further highlighting the need for mainstreaming in all areas of Government, Ms. Jalloh called for a shift from the days when men led development efforts. She also advocated a stronger focus on gender-based violence, including the adoption of better laws to criminalize rape and the establishment of a forensics lab to aid in investigations of that crime. Noting that 12 parliamentary seats had been set aside for traditional leaders, she said that, with their 30 per cent quota, women were simply asking for the same treatment. Although they currently held 12 per cent of the seats, that was not good enough, she said, stressing that the Association’s aim was to get women parliamentarians to think across party lines and view womanhood as their constituency, thereby sparking the kind of innovative dialogue that could lead to solutions. “Despite all these efforts, we are still faced by obstacles we cannot overcome alone, including a critical mass supporting the 30 per cent quota,” she said.
Asked how the young women of Sierra Leone fit into that effort, Ms. Kabbah said no women would survive the country’s politics without belonging to a political party. A mentoring programme had been established to encourage young girls to take an interest in politics, she said, noting that clubs were also training girls to take leadership roles. Ms. Jalloh added that training programmes in public speaking were also preparing them to lead.
Presenting figures on the lives of such young women, Mr. von der Schulenburg said 62 per cent of Sierra Leonean girls got married before they turned 18 years old, and 91 to 94 per cent of girls and women between the ages of 15 and 49 underwent female genital cutting.
Asked about the role of UN Women in their efforts, Ms. Kamara stressed that the newly formed gender entity should play a coordinating and supporting role, since what was happening in Sierra Leone was the country’s own responsibility. That was why women from civil society were taking the lead, she added.
Ms. Kabbah said that not only had many women been raped and maimed during the war, they had also died for the cause of peace. Now that peace had come, however, they had not been invited to participate in sufficient numbers. Indeed, only two women served in the executive arm of Government, and while the President had made a promise to change that, such commitments must be reflected in concrete changes, she stressed.
Asked about the need to calm ongoing civil unrest and political violence in nearby Côte d’Ivoire, Ms. Kabbah expressed that it could spill over into the wider subregion. “Peace in Côte d’Ivoire means peace in Sierra Leone,” she emphasized.
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