The Legal Aid Board and partners in the Western Area converged on Freetown City Council (FCC) Auditorium on Wallace Johnson Street in Freetown to celebrate International Women’s Day on 8 May 2023 on the theme: “Mitigating Sexual and Gender Based Violence Before, During and After the Elections.”
Six hundred and thirty-four people mostly women from partner organizations including the Council of Tribal Heads in the Western Area, Traders Council, Sierra Leone Market Women Association, Community Advisory Bureaus and Bike Riders Union took part in the celebrations.
Speaking on the purpose of the event, the Executive Director of the Board, Ms. Fatmata Claire Carlton-Hanciles said it marks the beginning of a series of town hall meetings around the country dedicated to educating people on free, fair and peaceful elections before, during and after the elections and ensuring electorates engage with the electoral processes. This will involve a number of initiatives including educating people on the Public Elections Act 2022.
She warned against conflicts and domestic violence within communities resulting from political affiliations. ‘Women have a right to belong and vote for any party of their choice without being subjected to harassment, intimidation and abuses by their husbands or male counterparts,’ Ms. Carlton-Hanciles stressed. ‘In the same vein, landlords should not threaten tenants with eviction for their political leanings’.
Ms. Carlton-Hanciles also warned participants against being used by politicians to undermine the electoral processes by taking the law into their hands noting that the Board is over-stretched and as a result does not have enough lawyers to represent all those who commit electoral offences. ‘This is why we will be holding town hall meetings around the country to ensure you understand the electoral offences so that you do not fall foul of these offences out of ignorance,’ she stressed. She called on those present to take the message to their homes, communities and congregations.
The Inspector General of the Sierra Leone Police, Faya Sellu called on all to respect the law noting that breaking the law has consequences. He said as a Force they have a duty to protect the elections to ensure they are peaceful.
He noted that those who were involved in recent riotous conducts have had their day in court and those found guilty are serving their sentences. He said as Sierra Leoneans we are one family but that does not mean all of us should belong to one political party. He said everybody has the right to belong to any group or political party of their choice but that right should be exercised responsibly.
The Chief Electoral Commissioner, Electoral Commission of Sierra Leone, Mohamed Konneh said that the work of the Commission is full of pressure. He appealed to all to allow the Commission to do its job based on the law.
He assured participants of the Electoral Commission’s commitment to free, fair and open elections. He added that the commission will create a level playing ground for all political parties.
He said he elevated the Gender Unit to a Department to ensure issues of gender are given the attention they deserve. Also, he assured all that the Commission will ensure the Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment Act 2023 is enforced to the letter noting that there should be one woman in any list of three candidates.
Speaking on issues bordering on voter registration, he said the commission rejected those with doubt arising from age verification. He noted that there were challenges around verification of the ages of children by chiefs who were crowned after the children were born. The Chair also noted that seats were allocated to districts based on figures from the 2015 and 2021 census.
The Executive Secretary of the Independent Commission for Peace and National Cohesion, Ms. Hawa Samai noted that women make up 52% of the population. She added that women hold the key to peace as evidenced in Bintumani 1 where they were in the forefront of the call for elections. She urged the women to use the power at their disposal to talk peace to the menfolk.
Ms. Samai called for a return to basics. She warned against turning our back on our rich culture for foreign ones. She called for return to the time in history when child upbringing was a community affair. He warned against normalizing insults including ‘mammy cuss’. She frowned at parents and elders who expose children to invectives including ‘mammy cuss’ in the home which she underlined is becoming normal in our schools and as such causing all sorts of disciplinary problems.
The Solicitor General, Office of the Attorney General and Ministry of Justice, Mr. Robert Kowa took his audience through the Public Elections Act 2022 more so on the rights of voters and electoral offences. The latter include: forging of voter ID Card; selling and buying of voter ID Card; interfering with voting; multiple voting; undue influence by trying to have a voter to change his decision in respect of choice of candidate through threat of violence and harmful cultural practices; tricking someone into changing his choice of candidate; impersonation and bribing a voter. He stressed that those who commit electoral offences will be taken straight to the High Court. He added that the Act gives the Chief Justice the power to set up election Courts around the country.
Other speakers include the Chairman of National Council for Civic Education and Development Kalilu Totangi; Representative of the Office of National Security (ONS) Dr. Ahmed Sannoh; Representative of Political Parties Regulation Commission (PPRC); Chairman, Civil Society Movement – Sierra Leone Juliet Anderson and Secretary General, Council of Tribal Headmen, Western Area, Mr. Gibao Younge.
The event was climaxed with a documentary on Legal Aid for poor and vulnerable women by Ms. Michaella Sallu. The documentary depicts the work of the Legal Aid Board in ensuring: a woman who was evicted from her matrimonial home was made to return through a court order; a woman who was divorced was not evicted from her matrimonial home and moreover does not leave empty handed after the dissolution of the marriage and partitioning a matrimonial property between husband and wife after the latter was kicked out of the property for the former’s girlfriend.
The event was interspersed with performances by George Buannie: Fantacee and Co and WANPOT Comedian. The renowned Lawyer, Francis Gabiddon chaired the event.
Courtesy: Legal Aid Board