In order to accelerate growth and sustainable development, Human Rights Commissioner (HRCSL) Rev. Moses Khanu has urged government, to legislate a gender equality bill, as advocated for, by Women’s Forum and other gender institutions.
The Commissioner, who was speaking to mark the International Human Rights Day, stated that the global theme for this year’s celebration was “Inclusion and the right to participate in public life”.
He said that the theme cannot be more appropriate for Sierra Leone, a country in which vulnerable and disadvantaged groups cannot fully participate in public life because of discrimination and other political, economic, social and cultural barriers.
Rev. Khanu stated that despite significant progress made in mainstreaming women issues in our country, the full participation of women in politics and public life, still remains a serious challenge.
He therefore called on Government to speedily implement the outstanding imperative recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), some of which will contribute significantly towards achieving gender equality. This, the Human Rights Commissioner said, will create a wider space and give more voice to women in the public sphere.
“The Commission notes that there has been a delay in the constitutional review process and therefore we urge Government to reactivate the process, so as to ensure the repeal or amendment of laws that still serve as a deterrent to their full inclusion in public life and for their voices to be heard and respected”, he said.
He stated that a high percentage of youths are out of school, unskilled and not gainfully employed. “Much as they have the right to be heard and participate in public life, they lack adequate capacity to be actively engaged in public discourse,” he said.
The Commissioner reiterated that Persons with Disability also continue to be marginalized in politics, as they face stiff barriers. The Commission calls on Government to fully implement the Persons With Disability Act, 2011, including making the Disability Commission more functional and effective.
He said that stigma and discrimination against persons living with HIV /AIDS is also another serious barrier to inclusion. Government should fully implement the National HIV / AIDS Commission Act, 2011 including strengthening the complaint and redress mechanisms for them and those affected by the pandemic.
Rev. Khanu notes that inclusion and the right to participation can only be realistic and meaningful in an open society and calls on Government to legislate the Freedom of Information Bill (FOI) without further delay.
The Commission is of the view that the passage of this bill will lead to the full realization of fundamental human rights in the country.
Executive Representative of the United Nations Secretary- General Mr. Jens Anders Toyberg-Frandzen said that everyone should be able to choose the people to represent them in government, to stand for public office and to vote on the fundamental issues that shape their destinies.
He said that it is essential that each and every single one of us has the opportunity to join in the debate, to offer ideas, to campaign for change.
The ERSG Toyberg Frandzen said that many groups such as women, people living with disabilities, minorities, indigenous peoples, and those living in remote and rural communities continue to be left out of this process, due to discrimination or lack of access to education.
The Executive Representative stated that in Sierra Leone, despite efforts by women’s groups and civil society organizations in the lead-up to the elections, the Gender Equality Bill was not adopted by the Parliament.
And while many women all over the country took to the polls on Election Day, only 15 women were elected to Parliament out of 124 seats.
People living with disabilities have also long been ignored in public life, but they are now campaigning to be included.
By Abibatu Kamara