On paper, Sierra Leone enjoys the benefits of gender equality, and for good reason.
Not only do women constitute a greater percentage of the general population than men, but it can also be argued that they play a more central role to the development of society. Sure, men occupy a significantly larger fraction of the global work force, but that is quickly changing. And there’s of course the crucial occupation that can be only filled by a woman: a mother.
Anyone attempting to argue the significance of a mother to the development of a child will find themselves at odds with all sorts of logic.
From the moment of conception, all the way through a child’s growth into adulthood, one’s mother is the single most significant factor in shaping the person the child will grow to be. A gentle, nurturing mother will make for a very similar child, and ultimately, human being.
Likewise, those women who choose not to take on the burden of motherhood, play an equal part in the furthering of their communities, and ultimately the whole world. With so many countries legally limiting the rights of females, do such seemingly uncontroversial activities as driving, there is a significant number of mentally and physically competent individuals robbed of basic opportunities who could just as easily be the next Teslas or Sankara as any male.
But this isn’t news to anybody. Over the last century, there have been incredible advances in the acquisition of equal rights for women all over the globe. The United Nations includes such guarantees in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; world leaders have recently convened do discuss the importance of including women’s health in the 2030 Millennium Development Goals; and even in Sierra Leone organizations like the 50/50 Group frequently advocate for the advancement of women in all public and private spheres. This isn’t a debate; equal opportunities and access to health for women and girls is one of the most important issues our species faces.
So then why is it that this simple fact seems to be lost on so many? During the Citizens’ Conference on Land and the Constitution that occurred during the last week of June at Freetown’s National Stadium, the program coordinator of the Women’s Network for Environmental Sustainability, Nabeela Tunis expressed her concern that women are still commonly excluded from the planning, policy forming, implementing, monitoring and evaluating of land uses in rural areas of the country.
She continued to describe how traditional norms and values also seem to be significantly limiting women’s accesses to land as well. These tendencies certainly do not reflect what is supposed to be a free and equal society.
But even worse than denying an adult her rights, is denying a child a life of happiness and prosperity.
In Sierra Leone, there is one common occurrence that more thoroughly devastates this opportunity than any other: the frequent rape of young and infant girls.
It seems like every day I open the paper to find yet another story of some sadistic man, taking advantage of girls who have not even begun to speak their first words.
These stories are often found in the back of publications, almost as if they’re too common to even be considered news. What would compel a man to have such a blatant disregard for human life that they would poison the future of another human being, just in order to satisfy a brief surge of sexual frustration?
Many young girls who experience sexual abuse in their early lives, find overcoming the experience next to impossible, with many victims later turning to prostitution or even suicide. The plague of sexual aggression is one of the darkest scourges on humanity something that singlehandedly can erase an individual’s entire future.
And yet, so many of these twisted men are granted bail and light sentences. In fact, there are instances in my home country, where rapists are sometimes sentenced to as little as five years in prison, then free to roam the streets again.
Whether we’re talking about America, Sierra Leone, or any other country in the world, there are sure to be many, many more of these criminals who escape prosecution entirely due to the victims’ fear of saying anything at all. When these men are brought before a court of law, I say we should deny them bail and leave them to rot in the dark for the rest of their miserable lives. But that’s why I’m not a Magistrate.
There’s an old saying that goes something like, “Educate a man and you educate an individual. Educate a woman and you educate a nation.” I firmly believe this statement, but education is meaningless, if a girl’s life is scrambled before it even gets started.
If we want to turn this planet into the utopia that we all desire, ending the abuse of women’s rights, health and security has to be the first step.
There’s no shame in a man identifying himself as a feminist; I certainly do. After all, if you believe in true equality for everyone living on this planet, I think you might be one as well.
Friday July 18, 2014