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Girls, Women, the Law & Valentine’s Day PDF Print E-mail
Development
Written by Ahmed Sahid Nasralla (De Monk)   
Tuesday, 14 February 2017 12:37

L.A.W.Y.E.R.S’ 20 years of Serving Society by Protecting Women and Girls Through the Law

On a traditionally romantic day on 14th February, 1997, when most successful women were busy cracking their brains on how to get the best from their partners, a small group of young female lawyers in Sierra Leone came together to form L.A.W.Y.E.R.S (Legal Access through Women Yearning for Equality Rights and Social Justice), a clear demonstration of their love and care for the country’s most vulnerable group of people.

Answering to the call of the socio-economic, political, environmental and legal injustices facing Sierra Leonean girls and women following the more than decade-long civil war (1991-2002), the group today- 14th February 2017- marks 20 years of defending, protecting and promoting the rights of girls and women across Sierra Leone.

Women and children, mostly girls, suffered the brunt of the war. Thousands were abducted and raped systematically.

“It has been a long 20 years, from the founding members to one president after another, overcoming one challenge after another and recording great achievements,” says Lois Anita Kawa, the organisation’s current President.

However, the organization is observing the anniversary today without having to blow its trumpet loudly at a low-profile ceremony at its 11 Percival Street, Freetown office. According to Lois, they are still far away from achieving the founders’ vision of ‘a country in which women and girls live in a healthy environment, have uninhibited access to opportunities and are able to fulfill their potentials’, but there’s a lot to celebrate about.

One of the organisation’s greatest achievements is its lead role in the enactment of what has come to be known as the landmark Three Gender Acts in 2007, and the subsequent Sexual Offences Act in 2012. The Three Gender Acts include the Domestic Violence Act 2007, The Registration of Customary Marriage and Divorce Act 2007 and The Devolution of Estates Act 2007.

“We believed that by reforming the laws which discriminate against women and girls we are building the foundation for their protection and development,” says Melinda Davies, under whose tenure as President in 2007-2009 the laws were passed.

 

L.A.W.Y.E.R.S’ role did not just end at the enactment of the laws, they engaged Judges and Magistrates who are the people tasked with the application of the laws, and took on the challenge of educating and sensitising the public on the contents of the three Gender Acts through radio programmes and community engagements.

Another big achievement is the establishment of the Legal Clinic towards the end of Melinda’s tenure in June 2009. Through this clinic, women and girls with legal issues ranging from domestic violence, sexual violence and other legal matters would come to L.A.W.Y.E.R.S’ Secretariat where they were provided with legal counseling and representation in the Magistrates Courts and High Court. The work of the Legal Clinic became the heartbeat of the organisation, with the services provided free of charge to women and children in need of help.

Not forgetting women who were already in conflict with the law, the organisation visited Correctional Centers (formerly Prisons) where women who had been incarcerated because of debts owed had their debts paid for them by the organisation and they gained their much needed freedom. It was no surprise therefore when in 2008, the organization was awarded with a certificate of recognition for its role in advocacy and promotion of women’s rights under the law by UNIFEM and Women’s Forum.

Initially operating from Freetown, the national capital, L.A.W.Y.E.R.S under the presidency of MariamaDumbuya (2010-2012) extended into the provinces with offices in Bo, Kenema and Kono with staffs and paralegals and providing pro bono representation for women and girls who have been victims of abuse or whose rights have been violated. In Kono for example, L.A.W.Y.E.R.S paralegals ensured that a man who broke up with his wife after 10 years of marriage took full maintenance of his children under the custody of the wife. In another instance, the paralegals ensured a woman reclaimed from her late husband’s family the right to inherit the deceased properties, including a house. The interventions of L.A.W.Y.E.R.S in these types of cases became so popular that Mariama on behalf of the organization received the prestigious AWOL National Achievement Award 2010 for Best Legal Organisation of the Year.

“We continue to challenge deeply rooted reprehensible traditions and negative perceptions against women and girls and we are proud of the national dialogue we are creating,” says SimitieLavaly, another past President 2012-2014, adding that the focus is to strive for a society where women and girls are valued and have access to the same educational and employment opportunities as their male counterparts.

Just at the infamous Armed Forces Revolutionary Council military coup in 1997 abruptly disrupted the enthusiasm of the organisation shortly after it was formed and inaugurated by the late First Lady Patricia Kabbah, so also was the Ebola outbreak that engulfed Sierra Leone in 2014. However, this time the organization did not go dormant along with most organisations whose activities were unrelated to health emergencies. Instead the organization decided to think outside the box and made itself relevant throughout the period of the outbreak.

“We realized that statistics was showing that more women than men were affected by the outbreak,” says Rhoda SuffianKargboNuni, who was President at the time. “L.A.W.Y.E.R.S was the first NGO to issue a press release calling on the Government of Sierra Leone and health partners to put measures in place to quickly tackle and put the situation under control.”

Beyond that, the organisation developed docu-dramas explaining in simplified forms the laws under the State of Emergency instituted by the Government of Sierra Leone to curb the spread of the disease, as well as cautioning and advising on measures to stay safe through Sign Africa and television screens all over Freetown for over a month. Proceeds from the sale of CDs and DVDs of a song and accompanying video clip done by the members themselves titled “L.A.W.Y.E.R.S Against Ebola” were later used to provide bursaries and school items to Ebola orphans and child survivors. This was also the first time since its establishment that the organization embarked on its own fundraising drive.

Yet it has not been a female to female affair exclusively. Male lawyers have also been supportive to the cause of L.A.W.Y.E.R.S.  “Any issue concerning our women should be a concern to every responsible man,” says lawyer SulaimanKabbahKoroma, one of the several male lawyers who provided their professional services pro bono to the organisation. “They are our mothers, our wives and our daughters. We owe a moral obligation to ensure that they are treated right and given equal access to justice and opportunities. I don’t remember the details of the cases I dealt with because it was a long time ago, but I did so with the conviction that I was contributing to a good cause.”

Meanwhile, though seriously constrained by lack of funding, the lawyers all envisaged an organization whose activities will expand extensively into all corners of Sierra Leone and pushing for legal reforms that will guarantee the quality education of all girls and the social, economic and political empowerment of all women.

“Yes funding is a huge challenge for us as we plan ahead,” say Lois, “but on a day like this it’s but fitting to pay tribute to all the founding members- Justice Claudia Taylor (R.I.P), Justice Valerie Nicol (R.I.P.), WinstoniaYounge, YasminJusu-Sherrif, Maureen Greene, IshaDyfan and others . And to our key partners- UNFPA, UN Women, Action Aid, OSIWA, the Judiciary and more.”

Looking back ,Jamesina King- a founding member and past President- says the good thing is that the organization has got a strategic framework that will ensure continuity through recruitment of young female lawyers who believe in the cause and which will  guide its programmes, but going forward she says the organisation has to be creative in overcoming its fund raising challenges.

 

Editorial

2016 Global Peace Conference to be held in Freetown---as IPRA 50th Birthday confab ends in Istanbul

 

The 26th biennal conference of the Internatonal Peace Research Association (IPRA) is billed to take place in  Freetown, Sierra Leone in November 2016, marking the second time Africa has hosted the conference since the founding of IPRA in 1964. This was announced following the re-election of  the two IPRA Secretaries-general, Dr Ibrahim Seaga Shaw (pictured) and Dr Nesrin Kenar, who co-ordinated the 25th  IPRA conference in Turkey,  at the organisation’s administrative meeting on August 14 during the 25th  IPRA  conference in Istanbul  to serve a second term of two years.

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ACC CAPACITATES SIERRA LEONE COMMERCIAL BANK STAFF ON ANTI-BRIBERY AND ANTI-CORRUPTION ISSUES

The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) on the request of the Management of the Sierra Leone Commercial Bank (SLCB) on Thursday 20th July, 2017 commenced anti- bribery and anti-corruption training with staff of the Bank.

The training which was held in the Bank's Conference Room 9th Floor, Christian Smith Building 29/31 Siaka Stevens Street, Freetown attracted over twenty members of the Executive Management.

Addressing colleagues, the Managing Director, SLCB, Idrissa Aloma Kamara disclosed that the Bank has integrated into the Bank's operations anti-corruption measures, such as the development of anti-corruption policy, anti-graft messages inscribed on Bank Statements and sensitization of staff on the dangers of corruption. With all these, the MD stated, it is the view of the Bank that the ACC which is the statutory body responsible for the campaign against corruption be brought in, to provide awareness training on anti-bribery issues for an efficient and effective banking system.

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The incidents of freedom of expression rights violations in West Africa more than tripled in the first quarter (January-March) of 2017.

Over the three-month period, a total of 47 violations were recorded as against 14 violations for the last quarter (October-December) of 2016. The violations recorded in the quarter under review range from arrests and detentions to physical attacks, online violations, shutdown of media houses, censorship, seizure and destruction of property and killings. The 47 violations occurred in 10 out of the 16 countries in West Africa.

These findings are contained in the latest edition of the West Africa Freedom of Expression Monitor, a quarterly report by the MFWA which analyses and highlights freedom of expression developments in the sub-region.

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REVIEWING THE JUNE 2017 ECOWAS SUMMIT

A PASSIONATE LETTER TO HIS EXCELLENCY THE PRESIDENT:  44TH EDITION

REVIEWING THE JUNE 2017 ECOWAS SUMMIT
 Your Excellency Sir,
 It’s been six months since I subscribed to my usual publications of this piece. And this is primarily because I have been out of the country for the entire period, and as such would not normally objectively tender a subscription. I do apologize to my readers for this. So having being in Monrovia, Liberia for the recently concluded ECOWAS Summit, I would like to do some analysis on such a historic august body and gathering of this sub-Saharan/West African region.
 
In resume, among other crucial achievements, ECOWAS, through its military apparatus, ECOMOG, played very sacrificial and invaluable roles in bringing peace, security and democratic governance to both Sierra Leone and Liberia during their past civil wars, and most recently ensuring that the Gambian people’s democratic change of government from the notorious dictatorial twenty seven years regime of Yaya Jarmeh, to the current government of President Adama Barrow, through their tactical robust intervention, overseen by President Helen JohnsonSirleaf of Liberia and other ECOWAS Presidents/actors, was enforced. Furthermore, ECOWAS has also spearheaded the enactment of several socio-political, advocacy and economic treaties in the sub region.
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View Point

WHY SIERRA LEONEANS HATE PEACE AND DEVELOPMENT

Honestly speaking Sierra Leoneans are well known for their hospitality all over the world, especially in Africa. But ironically many of them hate each other. But they love foreigners. They have high respect for strangers. But unfortunately they do not have respect among themselves. You can attest this to what is happening in the social media. Where they are showing their pull him down (PhD) syndrome. By castigating their compatriots unnecessarily. Some of them just because of jealousy and envious evil spirit they possess. They prefer to promote foreigners than their own brothers and sisters both in and out of the country.

Day in day out they are insulting each other.They are using all sorts of vulgar languages against each other. And even their own highly respected president in the world, President Ernest Bai Koroma they are insulting him openly. Therefore, it is an open secret that many Sierra Leoneans are not well cultured.

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Ms. Browne wants the Board to hold outreach events in the village to educate the people on issues of law relating to domestic violence, gender, women’s rights, redress mechanisms and support services for victims.

‘We want to benefit from the Legal Aid Board’s Legal Empowerment Programme because there is an urgent need for one in the community,’ Ms. Browne told the Executive Director of the Board, Ms. Fatmata Claire Carlton-Hanciles on the phone. ‘The situation is desperate. I am afraid if you do not come in now the situation could spiral out of control.’

The call follows series of referral of victims of domestic violence to the Legal Aid Board office in Freetown. The latest victim sent to the Board is one Baindu who was battered by her boyfriend Borbor Abu in the presence of their one year old son.

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250 LAB trains staff on Alternative Dispute Resolution

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Other beneficiaries include the WAN POT Comedians, members of the National Youth Coalition and six senior officers of the Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces (RSLAF). The latter includes the highest ranking female military officer, Brigadier Kestoria Kabia and the Director of Gender and Equal Opportunities at the Ministry of Defence Col. Tucker.

The training is aimed at equipping staff and partners with the requisite skills and techniques required for effective and efficient ADR. Moreover, the trainees should be able to use ADR as an alternative to litigation and using effective skill of arbitration, mediation, negotiation and active listening. 

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Development

30 Staff of the Ministry of Finance & Economic Development will go China for Seminar on Economic Planning

Thirty (30) staff of the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development will depart the shore of Freetown to China on 14th August 2017. The purpose of their trip is to attend a seminar on Medium and Long-Term Economic planning for Sierra Leone. The National Development and Reform Commission of China will organize the seminar from 16th August to 7th September 2017 in the capital city of Beijing, People’s Republic of China.

The Economic and Commercial Counsellor of the Chinese Embassy in Freetown, Mr. Shen Xiaokai met with the 30 participants at the Conference Room of the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development (MOFED) on 2rd August 2017. In his remarks he told the participants that in December 2016, His Excellency the President Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma and the Minister of Finance and Economic Development, Mr. Momodu Kargbo visited China, where they had high level bilateral meetings with Chinese Government Officials. 

He said this seminar is as a result of those meetings. “When China makes a commitment, China will fulfil it” he reiterated. He said The Ministry of Finance is one of the most important ministries in this country, therefore this seminar was designed specifically to meet the needs of the ministry.

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Politics

News from China, June 28th: Youth Affairs Minister addresses 2017 Ministerial Workshop on International Cooperation in Capacity Development in Beijing, China
Sierra Leone’s Minister of Youth Affairs has said, the 2017 Ministerial Workshop on International Cooperation in Capacity Development hosted by the Chinese government should help enhance the ties of friendship and foster the wheels of bilateral cooperation between the two nations and particularly strengthen cooperation in the field of human resource development.
 
Hon. Bai Mamoud Bangura spoke on Wednesday, 28th June, 2017, at the start of the week long Ministerial Workshop on International Cooperation, which has brought together participants from various countries, including eight (8) from Sierra Leone.
 
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