Let us stand up to violence against women in politics

Mkandeh
Posted October 10, 2018 from United Kingdom
Mayor Yvonne Aki-sawyer
Mayor of Freetown Yvonne Aki-sawyer was verbally attacked last Saturday by deputy minister of local government

 

On 20th September this year United Nations secretary General Antonio Guterres in a video message to the Eurasian women’s forum, held in St. Petersburg urged the forum to make gender equality a reality and called for the implementation of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This sentiment was also shared by the newly elected president of the UN General Assembly (UNGA) Maria Garces who opens the 73rd UNGA meeting by highlighting gender equality as one of her priorities. This coincides with a call by Sierra Leone’s minister of information Mohamed Rado Swarray for Africa to do more to empower women. The UN meeting noted the many gaps in programming and legislation around SDGs, particularly in Africa.

This could be because needs approach of the SDGs overlooks many of the women’s rights that permeates through other human rights issues. While the SDG directly linked to gender has one major target to promote gender equality and empower women and girls, there are several other issues that prevent women’s involvement in development- quite often this is linked to violence against women. 

Violence against women still holds very strongly in politics. It is a tool used by men to discourage women from venturing into politics. It is an easy way for men who feel threatened by women to express misogyny. It is one of the major reasons many capable women are shying away from politics. It is quite common and happens regularly in countries like Sierra Leone where the female mayor of Freetown  last Saturday suffered a verbal attack by the deputy minister of local government. Mayor Yvonne Aki-Sawyer had an altercation with the deputy minister Philip Tondoneh over some misunderstanding about trucks that were meant to clear rubbish from the streets on cleaning Saturdays. The newly elected government of president Maada Bio declared a cleaning day exercise on every first Saturday of the month.

In a video that was circulated on social media, the deputy minister is seen openly chastising and demeaning the mayor in front of a crowd of people. The mayor kept calm and held a document as she explained the procedure she had followed. The deputy minister on the other hand was vividly raising his voice in what could clearly be viewed as intimidation and bullying. His behaviour could best be described as misogynistic and unscrupulous for a public official. apparently, this is not the first time the first elected female mayor of Freetown is being assaulted. Weeks after she was sworn in to office, she was assaulted by some supporters of the ruling Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP). The mayor is representing the opposition All people’s Congress (APC). But what does this mean for women who aspire to go into politics?

According to a recent study by centre for social research and UN women on violence against women in politics, insufficient implementation of laws and lack of support from the law enforcement agencies are major reasons for violence against women in politics. The study which was conducted in India, Nepal and Pakistan found that 60% of women do not participate in politics due to fear of violence, while 90% of women feel that violence prevents them from venturing into politics. In Sierra Leone violence against women is a major deterrent to female participation in politics. Violence is used to terrorise women who seek elective public office. This undermines women’s aspirations and efforts to get into public offices and when this happens, women are blamed for not doing enough to get elected.

Violence against women in politics is a common place in Sierra Leone. In the pre and post elections period in April this year, there were hindrances that deter women because they suffer discrimination, lack of finance, intimidation and bullying. First lady Mrs Fatima Bio was subjected to online bullying by supporters of the APC party. Mrs Bio is not the only woman who have suffered violence in politics. Famous female politicians like Dr Sylvia Blyden have also suffered political violence. In the cases of Mrs Bio and Dr Blyden, they were portrayed as sexual objects, only worthy of satisfying the sexual desire of men. In most cases, the violence is perpetrated by men who feel threatened by these women. And men who believe the political space belong to men. Violence against women in every sphere of life is a manifestation of unequal power relations between men and women. Men who perpetrate political violence against women are tied in their archaic belief that women are to be controlled, women are not equal to them and the political space is a patriarchal space. The way deputy minister Philip Tondoneh expressed himself in the video endorses this notion.

Mayor Aki-Sawyer had in the past received an Order of the British Empire (OBE) award for her role during the Ebola outbreak. Yet, the deputy minister was questioning her relevance to Sierra Leone by asking her ‘Who are you’ in a derogatory manner.  In the mind of Tondoneh, Yvonne is a woman and therefore regardless of her role and achievements, she is still a nobody. This act left me with one major question. Would minister Tondoneh had behaved the same if the mayor was a man? I seriously doubt that. The minister’s behaviour also questions the way he treats his wife and children.

Following the altercation, Minister Tondoneh was interviewed in the popular ‘Good morning Salone’ show on radio democracy 98.1. In that interview, he was neither remorseful nor had he any regrets for his behaviour. Indeed, he is confident his misogynistic and callous behaviour will go unpunished. This sends a clear message to women who aspire for elective offices in Sierra Leone. There are many men like Philip Tondoneh in Sierra Leone politics. But will all women politicians act like mayor Yvonne Aki-sawyer? As Sierra Leone's information minister calls for women empowerment in Africa - I wonder if he could first wipe out misogyny in his government before expanding his campaign to Africa.

 

 

This post was submitted in response to The Future of Security Is Women .

Comments 10

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Dylan Dills
Oct 10, 2018
Oct 10, 2018

Hi MKANDEH! Absolutely brilliant piece and I appreciate the time you took to give facts to back up the violence women face daily in being politicians. We can see in so many cases in politics where women are first attacked for their character or body, versus her opinion or political stance. I appreciate your viewpoint and educating me on what is going on in the Sierra Leone, and how sadly, it is a common thread everywhere.

Mkandeh
Oct 13, 2018
Oct 13, 2018

Hi Dylan,
Many thanks for your comments. I agree. It is a common trend every where.
Regards,

Obisakin Busayo
Oct 10, 2018
Oct 10, 2018

This is how it is all over Africa. We have to develop thick skin to men's insult to actually break even in politics. Immediately the men sees your potentials as a woman in politics, they want to intimidate, discourage and embarrass you so that you can run away. I hope we have policies in African countries that is against this so that more women would be confidently coming to politics
Thank you for sister!
Love
Busayo

Mkandeh
Oct 13, 2018
Oct 13, 2018

Hi Busayo,
Many thanks for your comments. I totally agree with you about having policies that will protect women who go into politics. I wonder how a male dominated parliament or cabinet will push such policies through when some of them are perpetrators of violence against women. Yet, we are hopeful that by speaking up consistently, the trend will change.
Thanks again for adding your voice.
Warm regards,
M

Jacqueline Namutaawe
Oct 11, 2018
Oct 11, 2018

Violence against women still holds very strongly in politics especially women in opposition as they are seriously harrassed and man handled roughly by the male policemen. It is commonplace here in Uganda especially during riots and any other political moves when females are roughly handled and sexually harrassed by male policemen. Our female legislators have to be protected and accorded due respect.

Mkandeh
Oct 13, 2018
Oct 13, 2018

Hi Jacqueline,
I have read similar stories about Uganda too and I agree it must stop. With our persistence in our campaign, I believe this will stop. The more people read about these stories, the more people will grow interest in the topic and get involved in the campaign to end it.
Thanks again for your support.
Warm regards,
M

jlanghus
Oct 11, 2018
Oct 11, 2018

Hi Mariama,

Thanks for sharing your compelling post. Good luck with your story submission.

Hope you're doing well, and having a good day!

Mkandeh
Oct 13, 2018
Oct 13, 2018

Hi dear,
Thanks for your comments. I am doing good. Many thanks for your usual support.
Warm regards,
M

jlanghus
Oct 14, 2018
Oct 14, 2018

You're very welcome:-)

Fatima Wahab Babih
Jan 20
Jan 20

Hello Sis. Mariama, you said it all! Violence is one of the main factors keeping women out of leadership in Sierra Leone. Even at the community level, violence is used as a tactic to drive women out of leadership; I have experienced this first hand. Mayor Aki-Sawyer is a great role model for girls and women; she stood tall and dignified when she was being attacked viciously. I believe that the best way women can turn the table is to bravely venture into leadership, stand their grounds and hold misogynists bulls by the horn. Thank you for sharing!