"As societies build walls of separation between communities,
ICAAD works to remove each brick to illuminate our common humanity"

UPR: Sierra Leone, 24th Session, 2015

United Nations Human Rights Council

Universal Periodic Review: Sierra Leone

Executive Summary

Drawing on ICAAD’s research, this submission highlights issues of structural discrimination that impact women and minorities in Sierra Leone. The research examines Sierra Leone’s compliance with its international human rights obligations on the issues of: gender equality, violence against women, discrimination against women in education, inadequate healthcare for women, harmful traditional practices, and discrimination against citizens of non-African descent.

(I) Women’s Rights Issues

  • Gender Equality 
  1. Systematic Discrimination:

 (1) Women in Sierra Leone face widespread gender-based discrimination. The government has enacted legislation to protect and promote women’s status in society. However, the lives of most women living outside the capital are subject to customary law. [i] The status of women under customary law is that of a minor.[ii] This body of law affects women’s lives in critical areas such as marriage, divorce, property and inheritance. [iii] Attempts by the central government to promote gender equality are undermined by this dual system of laws.

(2) Protection of gender equality through legislation is limited by the lack of effective mechanisms to implement such legislation.[iv] Although there is constitutional protection for civil, political, social, and economic rights of women, the rights of women continue to be violated.[v] There is a lack of efforts to promote gender equality. In fact, Sierra Leone has not adopted any measures to implement the National Gender Plan or National Action Plan.[vi]

  1. State Response

(3) The government of Sierra Leone ratified CEDAW without reservations.[vii] The country also took the significant step of enacting three laws aimed at promoting gender equality: The Registration of Customary Marriage and Divorce Act 2007, Domestic Violence Act 2009, and Devolution of Estate Act 2007.[viii] Additionally, the Government has shown its commitment to UN Resolution 1325 by adopting a National Action Plan.[ix]

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This Civil Rights and Martin Luther King Jr. Day, we’d like to challenge you to reflect on how fear may have influenced your opinions, especially of others, and to take a step towards the courage to overcome those fears. Why the focus on fear you might ask?

Famed marketer and author Simon Sinek in his book “Start with Why” outlines six typical manipulations used in sales and marketing, one of which is the use of fear. On fear, Sinek says, “When fear is being employed, facts are incidental. Deeply seated in our biological drive to survive, that emotion cannot be quickly wiped away with facts and figures.”

In the current political atmosphere, in the U.S. and around the globe, fear is often used by politicians and campaigners to polarize debates and to demonize marginalized communities, using them as scapegoats for the real economic, social, and political challenges that societies face.

Martin Luther King, Jr. understood how important fear is, so much so that he gave a sermon on it named “Antidotes for Fear.” It’s worth reading in its entirety, especially because it recognizes the importance, necessity, and creativity of fear (kinginstitute.stanford.edu/king-papers/documents/draft-chapter-xiv-mastery-fear-or-antidotes-fear). However, particularly pertinent section was highlighted by King’s wife Coretta Scott King in her book “My life with Martin Luther King, Jr”:

“First Martin spoke of the many kinds of fear that troubled men and women in this period of change and "calamitous uncertainty"— fear of illness or economic disaster, fear of personal inadequacy in our highly competitive society. More terrible was the fear of death, even racial annihilation, in this atomic age, when the whole world teetered on "a balance of terror . . . fearful lest some diplomatic faux pas ignite a frightful holocaust."

"Some fears are normal and necessary," he said, like the fear of snakes in a jungle, but when they become neurotic and unchecked, they paralyze the will and reduce a man to apathy or despair. He quoted Emerson, who wrote, "He has not learned the lesson of life who does not every day surmount a fear."

How, then, to overcome fear? First, Martin said, "We must un-flinchingly face our fears . . . this confrontation will, to some measure, grant us power. . . . "Second, we can master fear through one of the supreme virtues known to man— courage . . . courage is the power of the mind to overcome fear.”"

MLK Coretta Scott King Simon Sinek
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