Sierra Leone formally launch National Side by Side Chapter

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by Jeanne Kamara, Country Manager for Christian Aid, reflects on the recent Side by Side launch in Sierra Leone.  

The collective buzz and infectious enthusiasm around the planning of our Sierra Leone Chapter, part of this critical global movement, was evident from our participation in the planning committee, which was made up of our faith leaders. In Sierra Leone, where almost everyone in the country has a faith. In a country where, without being complacent to the emerging extremism in our sub-region on both counts, Sierra Leone has a unique dispensation to Faith, which is unrivalled in the world. Christians and Muslims have early socialisation, attending the same schools, live in the same neighbourhood, where inter-faith marriage is normalised.  However, in the midst of this glimmer of hope sits a whole raft of inequalities, which continue to pose serious barriers to gender justice in Sierra Leone.

Having contributed to the West Africa Conference in Ghana under a year ago, myself and colleagues were able to take the clarion call forward to consult at a national level and establish a country chapter. Working in partnership with the Council of Churches in Sierra Leone, and faith leaders, to establish the movement at a country level.

Our first day was a packed media event, with a wide range of press with different shades of opinion represented.  The press were sensitised to our messages on gender justice, and in turn they have been amplifying our messages on TV, radio stations and on social media across the country.

 

“No country can develop if it does not fully and sustainably address the needs of all it is citizens and more so tackle the root causes of inequality and gender injustice.”

– Jeanne Kamara, Country Manager, Christian Aid

 

A panel discussion, in the local lingua franca, looking at the Side by Side movement and the launch in Sierra Leone was hosted by a leading independent TV station (Africa Young Voices – AYV): Panellists were Rev. Christiana Sutton Koroma, Imam Ibrahim Sesay and Jeanne Kamara and the moderator was Reverend Gibrilla Kargbo.

The content of these powerful messages, delivered by many of our eminent theologians across the Christian and Muslim faiths, spoke in practical terms around our realities on the ground. Realities for real Sierra Leoneans, which mean that social norms and some harmful practices continue to impede the progress of women and lives and curtail their access to basic services like health, education, social protection etc.

Where many families live on less than a dollar a day; 10% of our pregnant woman and/or their babies would die during the rigours of child birth and childbirth becomes a time of fear rather than joy; almost 30% of all pregnant women are currently under the age of 18 and gender injustice, exclusion and misogyny are rife. What better time to launch our Side by Side national chapter and focus the minds of our faith actors, policy makers and citizens.

Speaker after speaker articulated that in spite of all the legislation and pronouncements, the challenges are being shifted far too slowly. The President of the Council of Churches Reverend Yambasu made some useful commitments which he promised to lead the lobbying for.

 

“This initiative was supported by Christian Aid, but we are taking this as our own because it’s a serious a call to action for all religious leaders.”

– Rev. Dr. John K. Yambasu

 

Speaker after speaker quoted biblical passages and Koranic Hadiths from their respective holy books and communicated God’s purpose as creating Man and Woman as equals and the special position of women in God’s teachings. Others spoke out about how gender injustice is often perpetuated by the passing of a misinterpreted version of religious scriptures on all sides depending on how faith actors want minds to sway. The challenge to both the Christian and Islamic faith is to reflect and find ways to address these issues together.

Where does Religion meets Culture and social norms and where is the dividing line? In many of our contexts the lines have become blurred within countries and externally. If our Side by Side Chapter encourages an honest introspective perspective and a deep analysis into the mix of Religion’s (unwitting) collusion in perpetuating gender injustice by omission of commission, it can only lead to fresh thinking. Fresh thinking indeed came from a faith leader from the Methodist UBC Church who mentioned leading on including Gender Justice into the curriculum into the ecumenical training for Church leaders.

The Ministries of Planning and Economic Development and the Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs were represented. The Minister of Development’s representative in performing the official launch, commended the role of CA in initiating Development activities in Sierra Leone and the importance of planning in budgets to address the numerous barriers to development so that we can include the opportunities and life chances of our women and men.

 

 

“As spiritual leaders and faith groups we need to stand together. Gender justice is deeply rooted in our traditional values and scriptures, both in Islam and Christianity. Women are equal to their opposite and must be treated the same way. All is rooted in social justice. As a nation, we can only ensure social justice when we provide the conditions that allows association and individuals to obtain what is due to them according to their nature and location. We need to give and apply human rights without discrimination.”

– Mr. Mohamed Haji-Kella Deputy Minister of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs

 

The signing of the commitments to the movement on the banner was poignant as on their own initiative, the Christian Bishop signed underneath the global Islamic symbol and the Islamic leader signed underneath the Christian Cross – magical moment! During the event, a short video was shown where renowned religious leaders sent direct messages to the people of Sierra Leone, encouraging them to support the side by side movement. And a candle light procession was conducted symbolizing light, where the side by side movement will promote a society where everyone is valued equally and able to share equitably in the distribution of power, knowledge and resources.

The work of adding structure and focus to a very influential set of actors to add voice and leverage to big advocacy asks around Power, Gender and Inclusion is indeed integral to our own country strategic objectives. The journey has a long way to go in terms of achieving its milestones in our context but there is a common resolve by our Faith leaders to take this mantle on.

Big thanks to all faith leaders and to our colleagues and friends who supported the launch of the movement in Sierra Leone.

 

 

Side by Side Sierra Leone Light Procession

 

Posted by: Rachel Tavernor | Wednesday, May 8th, 2019
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