The Sierra Leone Web






Madam Speaker
Cabinet Ministers
Honourable Members of Parliament
Distinguished Guests
Ladies and Gentlemen:

It is with great pleasure that I am here this morning to attend this Mock Parliament, and to launch the 50/50 Group. The warm reception I have received so far runs counter to the caution I was given that I was coming to a den of the marginalised, and hence, the need for me to be politically correct in my pronouncements. By your actions, you have proved the cynics wrong.

Ladies, you could not have chosen a better place to launch your new organization. By choosing Parliament Building, the pinnacle of political power in this nation, you are sending a clear message to those who still think that Parliament is an all-men's club. They are wrong. It is not. I am sure the 50/50 Group will never allow that to happen. Ladies, you could not have chosen a better time to launch your organisation. Your decision is timely, coming as it is, six months before we embark on the democratic process of choosing those who will represent the people in this country for the ensuing five years. Let me therefore congratulate you for your initiative and foresight.

I must also congratulate the women of this nation, and the women of the 50/50 Group for their tenacity in not giving up in the face of the most daunting circumstances. In congratulating your Group, I should also like to do so, on behalf of all the women of this country. Sierra Leonean women are among the most courageous women in the world. In the past decade or so, Sierra Leonean women have been victims of untold suffering and deprivation in several parts of the country. There are thousands without homes, families or any visible means of livelihood. Many have lost limbs and have been victims of the most gruesome gender violence we have witnessed in this part of the world. Yet they continue to soldier on in order to make life meaningful and to improve circumstances that would have defeated individuals with lesser spirits. We are proud of you.

In the United States of America three decades ago, when a white voter remarked that an African-American was ill-prepared to be mayor of a city, the candidate responded: "ready or not, here we come." The 50/50 Group is not giving us such an ultimatum, but the very name of the organisation should give us food for thought, especially for those of us who are political and business leaders.

That Sierra Leone is a budding democracy today is due largely to the drive, determination, resourcefulness and creative qualities of the women of this nation. When the history books of this country are written, the part women have played will in no doubt have a special chapter. That Paramount Chief Madam Ella Koblo Gulama was the first woman to be elected to Parliament and appointed a Minister in the 1960s; that the late Mrs. Constance Cummings-John was the first woman to be elected Mayor of Freetown in the 1950s,and that Mrs. Shirley Gbujama was the first woman to be appointed Foreign Minister in West Africa, are all remarkable success stories. Encouraging as this trend may seem, it does not go far enough. Some may see this as tokenism or symbolism.

History was made in 1996 when two women were elected Members of Parliament from the North for the first time. This has traditionally not been the case. So, today one should ask the following pertinent questions:

· How many women do we have in Parliament?

· What is proportion or percentage of women in Parliament?

· How many women hold leadership or senior positions in the 20 or so registered political parties in the country?

· What customs and traditions if any, militate against women taking part in the electoral process?

· How many women are members or Chair of any Parliamentary Select or Standing Committee?

Fellow Sierra Leoneans, today I would like us to forge ahead with the limited gains we have made by including women in political decision-making process. Our women, our mothers are our first teachers and our best teachers. They are very resourceful. The human mind is too powerful and precious to waste. I therefore urge all Sierra Leoneans during this dispensation or ongoing political engineering, to cooperate in creating a new political environment in our country that will reverse the under-utilisation of our precious human resources. Therefore, I suggest that we should be guided by the cardinal principles during the current millennium. The first of these principles is recognition.

In the new dispensation of our national politics as is the case in countries where potential and real qualitative contributions mean something, recognition is one of the answers to the marginalisation of women. Our country has no aversion to recognising women of quality and substance. Let us therefore resolve that from now on, we shall conduct our national affairs in such a way as to out a high premium on recognising individuals with quality, particularly women.

Fellow compatriots, while Government has to take the lead in encouraging the principle of recognition, each of us as individuals should, in our daily lives try to focus on the need to recognise women as a way of promoting national development.

The second cardinal principle which I urge should guide us in the coming years is equality of opportunity. We live in a competitive world, an environment which, if not properly nurtured will lead to inequality of income distribution. As I indicated earlier, there are thousands of displaced Sierra Leonean women. A situation like this can change if everyone is given the opportunity to participate fully in the political process. The United Kingdom, Sri Lanka, India, Norway, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Israel, Indonesia and the Philippines have all had women who have served and are serving their countries as Prime Ministers or Presidents.

We should therefore, work hard to remove all barriers that impede the advancement of women in their stride to achieve whatever goals they may have set themselves. My late wife, Patricia, who was committed to organisations that empower women, like "Sisters Unite" and "FAWE", used to remark that "a man of quality should not be afraid of a woman in quest of equality." Her thoughts and vision signaled the twilight of the old order of politics and the dawn of the new when major stakeholders like women should and must be included in the political process. The 50/50 Group is a self-interest organisation that seeks to empower women in a culturally friendly and receptive environment.

Government for its part should continue to increase the level of its input into the social services such as health and education. The rationale for this is that development is a collective responsibility which should spur us to create a level playing field for all. That involves giving a fair chance to women.

The third cardinal principle which I would like us to uphold as we begin our journey into the Millennium is inclusion. With twenty-two political parties so far, and elections just around the corner, it is not too early for me to make a solemn plea to all of us, to ensure that we have an open-door policy for women who wish to participate in the electoral process. One of the best ways to achieve a vibrant and enlightened electorate is to develop a culture of inclusion. Nobody should be excluded from participating in politics because that person is a woman. For example, the reason why women cannot become Paramount Chiefs in the North is that the Paramount Chief is also automatically the head of the male secret society. That obstacle can be removed by a lady Paramount Chief delegating this specific responsibility to he senior male chief. In the spirit of national cohesion, we must this cultural divide.

In this connection, I am pleased to observe that our Constitution and electoral laws do not exclude women from participating in politics at any level of their choice. I therefore call on all Sierra Leoneans to appreciate the resourcefulness in women, and engage them in the best interest of our country.

On behalf of all Sierra Leoneans, I now have the honour to formally launch the 50/50 Group, with the hope that we will see the wisdom of their quest for recognition, equality and inclusion.

I thank you all.