The Decentralization Secretariat and the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) and the Ministry of Social Welfare Gender and Children’s Affairs has ended a two-day training and sensitization of relevant stakeholders across the country on the Gender Acts at Madam Wokie hotel along Dambala road in Bo.
In his opening remarks the Chairman of the session the Provincial Secretary South Alhaji Lansana Koroma said the workshop is a sensitization of stakeholders on the three Gender Acts, which was enacted by parliament sometime ago by the former government.
He said everyone present for the training should understand what the three gender Acts and the Child rights act is all about and for all to know and understand the role they have to play in implementing the Acts.
These he said include issues that are very pertinent to the Rights of women and children pointing out that there has been a lot of injustices against the women either in the area of violence, sharing of property or otherwise. This time round Parliament and Government saw to it that this injustice should be eliminated by bringing about an Act which will bring the vision for addressing those areas that are grossly disadvantageous to children and women in our society.
Alhaji Koroma said it is a very good package for all of us and he believes it has helped to improve the social status of all of us. One thing very interesting in this particular workshop he said is when we use to say ignorance of the law is no excuse but when the law is not being explained or taught to the people then obviously we will not be fair to them he said. This time round they are taking it to the people he maintained. “And that I believe you representing the people will be able to take it back to them and sensitize them to the best of their knowledge so that the Act will be fully implemented.”
Mr. Koroma explained that Sierra Leone is a signatory to several International Instruments, which includes the declaration of Human Right. When the article is being signed it is expected of every country to come back home and adopt and implement it. What the last government did according to this document was they were able to pass three major Acts – that is the Devolution of Estates Act 2007, Domestic Violence Act 2007, Registration of Customary Marriages and Divorces 2007 and Child rights Act 2007.
He said in the area of customary marriage most times when the husband dies the properties go to the family. “That has not been helping the situation; it has created a lot of economic hardship on the women and children. The Act will ensure a fair distribution to all the parties. Under this act 95% of the distribution will now go to the surviving spouse whether the woman or the child. 25% go to his survived child/ children. 15% will go to the surviving parents and 15% in accordance with the customary law. Every member in the family whether extended relationship or close is going to benefit and that will create fairness and justice, which will bring about satisfaction. He then thanked the former government for passing the acts, which he says, has placed a better conducive environment for all.
In her statement the Regional Desk Officer South of the Ministry of Social Welfare Gender and Children’s Affairs Alice Jeneba Koroma said the Ministry has the mandate to enhance the dignity and status of men, women and children of Sierra Leone. She said the Ministry does not work in isolation but works in collaboration with effective partners. She said the journey they are now on started way back with UNDP and the Parliamentary committee on Human Rights on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women since 2005 with the effort to domesticate that convention. Out of the process they came out with those bills and the women worked round the clock for the bill to go into laws. They achieved that goal in 2007 she said and they are now in the hall with DEC – SEC and UNIFEM talking about its implementation. She said the law is not just about women, as implementing these laws will help both men and women.
Saying that the Ministry is always happy to work with any group to carry these laws to the masses who really need to know about it. She appealed to all those present to go back with whatever information they will be gaining to their community people so that the grassroots will be informed.
In her contribution the National Programme Officer of UNIFEM Melrose Kargbo disclosed that though the UNIFEM Programme Director is based in Dakar, they are pleased to have collaborated with DEC-SEC, which is charged with the responsibility of decentralizing all government functions and decisions.
“We have decided to work with them so that the messages that are in the gender Acts are fully implemented and reach our people far and wide” adding that they will all continue collaborating with the Ministry.
Explaining about UNIFEM mandate, she said UNIFEM is widely known as UNIFEM and was established in response to a call from government and NGOs to create a women fund for the United Nations. UNIFEM’s original mandate is spell out in the general assembly resolution 39 (125) which stipulates that the fund should
Support innovative and experimental activities benefiting women in line with national and regional priority.
Play a catalyst role in ensuring appropriate involvement of women in mainstream activities.
Play an innovative and catalyst role in relation to United Nations overall system of development cooperation. Additionally UNIFEM’s mandate is affirmed by other global agreed documents including Bejing plan for action that emerged after the 4th World Conference on women and other plan of Action from World Conference. The Bejing platform for Action endorsed by more than 180 of the world government referred specifically to the critical role that UNIFEM should play in achieving gender equality. She said paragraph 335 of the platform affirmed UNIFEM mandate to increase option and opportunity for women’s economic and social development in developing countries and by providing technical and financial assistance to incorporate women’s dimension into the development at all level. Saying that CEDAW which is the convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women has often been based on the international Bill of Rights for Women and it includes many articles practicing and advocating women’s right as it is recognized in other treaties. The convention requires state parties to avoid discrimination against women in the enjoyment of all civil, political, economical and cultural rights.
One of the facilitators Oju Wilson a legal practitioner spoke about the Child Rights Act, Registration of Customary Marriages and Divorces and Devolution of Estates Act.
About the Customary Marriage and Divorce Act he said Subject to subsection (2), a person who enters customary marriage (whether it is potentially or actually polygamous) shall not subsequently marry any other person by Christian, Muslim or civil rites during the existence of the customary marriage. A person may enter a Christian, Muslim or civil marriage after a customary marriage if it is with the same person with whom he entered the customary marriage and the customary marriage shall be deemed to have dissolved after such Christian, Muslim or civil marriage. Albert Kanu the Regional Coordinator of DEC – SEC also made meaningful contribution.
By Saffa Moriba in Kenema