By Joseph Johnson
The bill entitled “Gender Empowerment Act 2021” has undergone second reading and committed to the Legislative Committee for further probing after it was laid before the House on 21st October 2021.
While Members of Parliament were debating the bill, Hon. Veronica Kadie Sesay who is the President of the Parliamentary Female Caucus lauded the bill because it now features a Gender Unit in every Ministry, Department, Agency and other Public Service institution headed by a Director of Gender which shall be responsible to integrate gender demands into sectorial legal frame work, policy strategies and action plans.
The MP noted that over the years the lack of a gender desk in MDAs has contributed to lack of integration of women in government activities. Hon. Sesay also urged men to take advantage of the said desk to also complain issues of harassment which happens also to men.
In his own submission, Hon. Ibrahim Tawa Conteh representing constituency 132 pointed out that it is not sufficient to relay on a temporary arrangement for a 30% quota for women representation. “The temporary arrangement is we all know that section 38a and section 38 are part of the Constitution of Sierra Leone, it can be reverted to at any point in time, to rely on propositional representation to get 30% for women is not sufficient,” Hon. Tawa said.
He appealed that when the bill is sent to committee stage, they must include 30% of inclusion of women as per section 38. He noted that as a “he for she” advocate, they will not accept a temporary arrangement of 30% representation for women.
He continued that political parties must ensure they amended their constitution to ensure the 30% is given with sincerity and honesty.
Hon. Tawa ended up applauding the President in commitment in strengthening women especially with school enrolment and also the scholarship opportunity for girls pursing courses in the Sciences, Technology, Engineering and mathematics.
Even though other MPs lauded the bill and urged for a quick enactment, Hon. Lahai Marah of Constituency 042 in Falaba District however charged the house to carter for all women claiming that the bill is only for women elites but does not carters for other women in society. He said that it is not enough for women to become MPs or ministers but they should also have the opportunity to contest chieftaincy elections especially in the North by amending the Local Government and Chieftaincy Acts respectively.
“You are here advocating for 30% for educated women, you are not thinking of the women that are suffering out there, that are above 90%? Cater for all because this bill is not for all the women,” Hon. Marah lamented. Hon. Marah accused MPs of insincerity noting that it is not about making the laws but also about protecting women.
“The Chairperson of Tonkolili District Yabom Sesay who was incarcerated for just taking part in an elections, look at what the Mayor Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr is going through, Madam Lara Taylor Pearce is just suspended like that and you are all sitting here and doing nothing especially ‘you you,” Hon. Marah gesturing at the President of the Parliamentary Female Caucasus who sat shocked and surprised with her mouth shaking to talk but with not words or sound coming out as the MP said she has not done or said anything towards all of these.
The Leader of Government Business Hon. Mathew Nyuma was quick to caution the MP about refereeing a case that is already before the court. However, Hon. Lahai Marah continued referencing Sylvia Blyden who he claimed was incarcerated at the CID for over 28 days without been charged to court.
The debate was concluded by the Leader of Opposition and the Leader of Government Business who lauded the bill and encouraged that it be looked at carefully. The Bill was later committed to the Legislative Committee for further probing by the Leader of Government Business Hon. Mathew Nyuma using SO 51.
The minister, Manti Tarawallie in an interview expressed hope that the bill should not take long at the Legislative Committee stage noting that she is hoping that by next week it will be brought back to the house for enactment.