By Helena Gronberg
GNWP’s third workshop on Capacity Building and Local Legislation and 1325 & 1820 that took place in Kissy (Sierra Leone, Western area) from June 27 to 29 concluded yesterday. Kissy, which is part of Freetown City, lies in the Eastern part of Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone. The traffic from the west of town to the east is fantastically terrible and with the daily rains the past week we were happy that the majority of participants had agreed to stay in residence for the 2,5 day training.
In 2000 and 2008 The United Nations Security Council passed Security Council Resolutions (UNSCR) 1325 and 1820 respectively. The resolutions recognize the disproportionate impact of armed conflict on women, and the potential of women’s contribution to the prevention of conflict and peacebuilding efforts. The resolutions demand that Member States take effective measures to promote women’s rights and to end impunity for perpetrators of sexual violence. The local legislation and 1325 & 1820 program, supported by the Government of Canada and the Folke Bernadotte Academy of Sweden, is a shift from awareness raising on UNSCRs 1325 and 1820 into action on the ground.
The participants in the workshops are local district/city councilors, paramount chiefs and tribal heads, members of the Family Support Units, religious leaders, members of the security sector, and leaders of women’s groups. The workshop sessions include group exercises on conflict analysis, discussions of the two resolutions and Sierra Leone’s National Action Plan on 1325 and 1820 (SiLNAP); presentations of the role of local councils in implementation of issues of women and peace and security; and presentations on formulating by-laws. The expected outputs of the trainings are action plans on integrating UNSCR 1325 and 1820 and the Sierra Leone National Action Plan on UNSCR 1325 (SiLNAP) in local council development planning processes, and recommendations for concrete by-laws. Additionally, GNWP and its partners in Sierra Leone, including the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development and the Decentralisation Secretariat, will draft guidelines for further integrating SiLNAP into council development plans.
The workshop in Kissy targeted only two local councils – the Freetown City Council and the Western Area Rural District Council (WARDC) – whereas the previous workshops in the districts of Kenema (Eastern Area) and Bo (Southern Area) had 5-6 district councils represented in each. The Western Area Rural District and Freetown City together comprise almost one third of Sierra Leone’s population of an estimated 5,3 million. The Western Area also differs from other regions of the country in that there are no Paramount Chieftaincies in this area. Tribal Heads appointed by the President play the role of Paramount Chiefs here. The Paramount Chieftaincies are highly influential in Sierra Leone, and many Sierra Leoneans’ lives are guided by chiefdom or traditional governance. Currently, a new government policy that will encompass both chiefdom and tribal administrations is being rolled out. The policy will lead to the formulation of a national law for traditional authorities in Sierra Leone.
To our delight the Minister of Local Government and Rural Development, Ambassador Dauda S. Kamara attended the opening session of the training on Wednesday. In his opening statement he emphasized the importance of implementing Resolutions 1325 and 1820 in countries such as Sierra Leone, still bearing the scars of conflict. He further noted that implementation requires “action at the national and local levels” as peace, security and development at the local level is a prerequisite for achieving these at the national level. He expressed his delight at the expected results of the workshop – to come up with practical ways in which the local councils can implement UNSCR 1325 and 1820! Acting Deputy Mayor Bode Gibson of Freetown City also gave an impressive opening statement in which he gave a detailed outline of the contents of UNSCR 1325 and 1820. He was very well briefed! The Deputy Mayor also noted that, “Freetown City Council over the years has fulfilled its role and formed a committee that reaches out to women and girls as specified by both resolutions.”
One of many highlights during the three days was the visit of Ms. Zainab Bangura, newly appointed United Nations Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict. (During our workshop in Bo last weekend we had received word that Ms. Bangura, Minister of Health and Sanitation here in Sierra Leone had been appointed to replace Margot Wallstrom of Sweden.) Ms. Bangura thanked the women of Sierra Leone for her achievements and said she counted on their support as she takes on this significant role. She also vowed to work with the Global Network of Women Peacebuilders and encouraged us to contact her once she takes office in New York. And indeed we will take her up on that!
The workshop was inspiring and productive. The focus and dedication of the participants was remarkable and I sensed a level of analysis that I did not experience in the previous workshops. Although conducting four back-to-back trainings is a challenge it has also allowed us to incorporate lessons learned immediately. Improved guidance from the part of us as organizers during the group sessions allowed for deeper exploration and improved results here in the Freetown training.
“I am happy that there are ward committee members here and tribal heads. This workshop has involved women from the grassroots, which I think will have a multiplier effect,” said Councilor Sembia Johnson of the Freetown City Council and President of the Council of Women Councilors. “Some grassroots women still feel that [women’s issues] is an elitist thing, only for educated women.” Councilor Sarah Umu Sankoh from the Western Area Rural District, Waterloo noted that the workshop had provided an opportunity for councilors to become more active. “Personally I have become more motivated and feel empowered to go back and do my work,” she added.
Oju Wilson, Legal Officer at the Decentrilisation Secretariat said that the workshop had provided insight for the various stakeholders on how they can go about “ensuring that when they are preparing their development plan some of these issues are actually inputted into the plans.” To my question on whether our desired output of coming up with concrete recommendations of which activities within the SilNAP should be drafted into by-laws, Wilson responded that formulation of by-laws are key. “By doing this kind workshop we have realized that we can have uniform by-laws for all 19 local councils, which will assist in the law procedures that you will have to undergo if you want to formulate by-laws for each local council. If we are able to achieve by-laws it will be a remarkable success in terms of implementing this particular project.”
Once again we were pleased to be joined by Mr. Steven Gaojia, Minister of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs for the closing session. The Minister noted the significance of the local councils and building the capacity of local councilors when it comes to issues of child protection, women’s participation, gender equality and women’s empowerment and congratulated GNWP and our member National Organization for Women on the success of the workshop.
Minister Gaojia to the delight of the whole group informed us that his engagement following the closing of our workshop was to sign the Sexual Offenses Bill, which has been under revision for some time. He will then lead the presentation in Parliament in the coming weeks in order for Sierra Leone to have this robust Sexual Offenses Bill eventually passed into law! Congratulations!