I was listening to the UN Radio which I missed so much as I have been far away up north. There was this very nice discussion program involving Sierra Leone’s Women Parliamentary Caucus who had just returned from Rwanda. You can recall that in the women’s advocacy for equal representation Rwanda has often been quoted as a good example in Africa. There they kept a 30% quota for women in Parliament.
I even understand that another addition has been done. Our noble women said that in the Rwandese Parliament women account for 56%!. This is the situation and our women are so excited to replicate it in Sierra Leone. You see the argument about equal representation is a long onealmost becoming a” Musa Wulo” story in the Mende folk lore tradition.
One interesting thing that also came out of the discussions was the fact that most of the Rwanda women Parliamentarians were not that lettered but were contributing tremendously to their country’s development. This has been an issue in Sierra Leone. Are we going to sacrifice informed knowledge on the altar of equal representation? How meaningful can someone who does not understand the critical issues in contributing viably to debates and informed decisions in Parliament?
No doubt however that women’s empowerment is very critical to child survival. It is also said that if you want to know a country’s future, check the provision that is made for their children. Currently our performance in meeting the Millennium Development Goals is kaput! One cogent argument in favor of women’s quota is the fact that a quota exists for Paramount Chiefs in Parliament. True in fact Paramount Chiefs happen to be in both the Legislature and Executive arms of government. In fact by some extension even in the judiciary. Don’t forget Kangaroo Courts and their appendages running in very remote areas still exist and hold sway over people’s lives never mind the much talked about progress in the sanization of the justice system.
The male gender is prone to hanging on to command and control as a traditional domain. This has to be broken if women’s emancipation is to be fully and consciously realized. People do not need to belong anywhere… they just need to be for development. Let me tell you something women are more gifted to take care of things than men. If you deny that get your wife a job that will be taking her out of town then you will see what I mean.
To even arrange kids to go to school becomes a big burden to us men. Accepted that women are beside every man, good or bad, but you hardly hear that any war has ever been waged by women. But who feels the brunt of wars? It’s mostly women and children.
Our Parliamentary women caucus, fresh from Rwanda also praised Rwanda for her cleanliness. Well of course they could not have been shown the nasty parts of Rwanda. Way back in 1980 during the OUA Summit hosted by our country Sierra Leone, the Mauritanian delegation I was working with said Freetown was very clean. Of course the thing was done like Sunday clothes which you wear for the purpose. At the time Mammy Yoko Hotel had all what it takes to meet international standards.
I tell you part of the menu was in French!
Handling gender issues in development is as necessary and critical as improving the lives of poor people.
It is in fact the essence. It is like bringing the hardware and software aspects of an organization together in order to make the desired impact.
Advocacy here plays a very paramount role. Gender is a key development issue.
It is about roles, about power relations, about beliefs, culture, norms and attitudes. Do we agree that power and authority should be shared? How many times have our women folk taken up leading roles in the home…indeed many.
In these days of economic down turn characterized by job losses, women led households are on the increase. To easily internalize gender sensitivity, one has to be transformed. Most times women say men are not giving them the opportunity to take leadership positions, they don’t vote them in. What is amazing is that in almost every community women are in the majority. So if all of them decide to vote for their women candidates they might
sweep the pools. President Obama won the American elections because whites who are in the majority voted for him.
The Constitution Draft Commission has been working on reviewing our laws. The idea of an Upper House at Parliament has even been mooted. Well if it goes through it may well take into consideration the women’s quota issue. Well in these days of broad-based thinking other groups like the handicapped, youth, etc. may lay claim to quotas. In our deep seated patriarchal outlook can we really easily allow women to take greater control of their lives? Will male chauvinism allow us? That thing called ego is not easy to let go. You have to have a transformative thinking first.
In all this it is important to have a favorable political environment. A favor that men can do is to refrain from reacting to challenges in a confrontational manner. Women should endeavor to go beyond stereotype traditional roles. Let them venture into the so called male domains. Indeed it is coming…it is almost here. Let us take bike riding. In Kabala some 60% of female NGO workers ride motorbikes. Oh it’s so lovely to see them riding along the streets of Kabala and beyond. Do you know that women do a lot of things better? They are more careful and hate embarrassment. I once had a lady take me round Tamale in Ghana smoothly. Because she was a woman I enjoyed every bit of the trip. Don’t ever make that mistake we need women in every sphere of life.
If we take governance to mean a set of values, policies and institutions by which society manages its economic, political and social processes at all levels through interactions among government civil society and the private sector then women should be at the center of it all. The promotion of peace and security is quintessentially about protecting and empowering people. The 2004 UNDP Report has illiteracy among men as 49.3 and for women 77.4. This indeed is very gloomy news in a 21st century nation state. Nowadays people talk a lot about sustainability. The participation of various sectors like women, children, youth and physically challenged helps to give good blend of needs for consideration by state actors.
The rate of our developmental strides is to a very large extent dependent on our ability to work together. When you check the poverty statistics the world over, women are in the majority.
What makes women’s issues critical today is that there is universally a greater recognition today of the need to put poverty reduction as the central objective of the process of development. For women certain key issues need to be considered like employment; representation/participation in governance; command and control, and the building of self esteem.
The bulk of our poor people are in the rural areas doing farming. Most of them are women who toil day in day out to maximize their yield. At the end of the day it is the man who takes full control; over the yield… how humane can this be? Some are even denied access to resources they have contributed to mobilize.
I think this is unfair. You definitely can’t go pissing in my garden and tell me it is raining. If a man does something good to a Nigerian, he often will say God bless your wife.
This is indicative that beside every good man there is a woman who cares.
There is great need to engender structures. Structure is definitely related to function If the voices of women are not heard one can hardly cater for their needs. Many aspects of our developmental work deal with women and thus women should be a part at every level. One year in Freetown we declared a no sex day during the marking of the World AIDS Day. It was more women who complied more than the men. Definitely no one wins all the time. Let us reflect on this because if we do not reflect on issues and correct them the future will be more chaotic.
By S. Beny SAM