Mavic Cabrera-Balleza, International Coordinator of GNWP, speaking at a localization training in Sierra Leone.

Translating global policies into practical and necessary actions—one village at a time. The impact of the Localization of Resolutions 1325 and 1820 in Sierra Leone

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By Mavic Cabrera-Balleza
Founder and International Coordinator
Global Network of Women Peacebuilders (GNWP)

Paramount Chief (PC) Foday Alimamy Umaro Jalloh III is the third generation paramount chief in his family since 1896.[1] As paramount chief, he governs the Nieni chiefdom in Koinadugu District, Western Sierra Leone that has a population of more than 40,000.

Along with other local authorities and leaders such as mayors and councilors, PC Jalloh has been participating in the Localization of the UN Security Council Resolutions 1325 and 1820 program in Sierra Leone since 2012. The Localization program is a people-based, bottom-up approach to policy-making and policy implementation that guarantees local ownership and participation initiated by the Global Network of Women Peacebuilders with support from Folke Bernadotte Academy and the Government of Canada.

Sierra Leone is one of 13 countries in Africa that have adopted a national action plan (NAP) on UNSCR 1325 and 1820. A NAP is a policy document that spells out the steps that a government is currently taking, and those initiatives and activities that it will undertake within a given time frame to meet its obligations under the resolutions. The Sierra Leone NAP (SiLNAP) was launched in 2010. There wasn’t much implementation activity until the Localization program was initiated by GNWP in partnership with its civil society members[2] and the Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs (MSWGCA) and the Decentralisation Secretariat (DecSec) of the Ministry of Local Governance and Rural Development (MLGRD) two years later. The Localization program helped revitalize implementation when it convened paramount chiefs, ward leaders, local district administrators, civil society leaders, religious leaders and other key local actors to examine the SiLNAP and identify its provisions that are most relevant to the local context. This led to the drafting and adoption of the Localization Guidelines, a manual that serves as a sourcebook for local authorities to carry out implementation of the SiLNAP. The Localization Guidelines has been endorsed by the MSWGCA and the MLGRD.

Apart from the SiLNAP, Sierra Leone has also made advancement in its legal framework on gender equality particularly through the passing of the three Gender Acts: Domestic Violence Act; the Registration of Customary Marriage and Divorce Act; and the Devolution of Estate Act in 2007. In 2012, the Sexual Offenses Bill was also passed into law. All of this demonstrates the government’s commitment to strengthen efforts to prevent sexual violence and promote gender equality.

Nevertheless, there is more that needs to be done with Sierra Leone’s legal and policy framework to achieve gender equality. For example, the Parliament is yet to repeal the discriminatory provisions against women in the Constitution.

Another serious gap in the advancement of gender equality is the existence of customary laws and traditional practices that are harmful and discriminatory to women and girls. Some of these include child early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation. These are sensitive issues that only a Localization strategy is able to address. Under its Localization program in Sierra Leone that has been supported by Folke Bernadotte Academy of Sweden since 2012, the Global Network of Women Peacebuilders has brought on board paramount chiefs, tribal heads, local district/city councilors, ward committee members, religious leaders, local women leaders, local police and military officers, members of the government Family Support Units, Regional Technical Facilitators of the MLGRD, and regional coordinators for the MSWGCA.

The Localization program was cited in the UN Secretary-General’s 2012, 2013, and 2014 reports on Women, Peace and Security to the Security Council as an important strategy that promotes implementation at sub-national and regional levels, as well as an effort to integrate women and peace and security commitments to legislation, policy-making and planning processes. It has set in motion actual implementation of UNSCR 1325 and 1820 in several countries, beginning from awareness- and knowledge-raising to concrete actions. The Localization program is operational in Burundi, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Liberia, Nepal, Philippines, Serbia, Sierra Leone, South Sudan and Uganda. Its recognition as a best practice example in implementation paves the way for possible replication in more countries, including Afghanistan, Kenya and Nigeria.

GNWP uses one conceptual model in the Localization program that is guided by the principles of local ownership and participation. However, the actual implementation of the Localization program varies from one country to another depending on the socio-political, cultural and economic realities as well as the specific local governance structures.  

Results

One outstanding result of the Localization program in Sierra Leone is the adoption of the Localization Guidelines on UNSCR 1325 and 1820. The Localization Guidelines serves as a manual to guide local authorities and traditional leaders like PC Jalloh in integrating the SiLNAP in their performance of their duties and responsibilities as local leaders.

Another important result of the Localization program in Sierra Leone is that the implementation of SiLNAP has been recommended by local council actors themselves to be part of the performance assessment of local district officials. In other words, mayors, local councilors and other local officials are to be regularly evaluated based on how they have implemented SiLNAP in their city or municipality. Furthermore, the Localization program in Sierra Leone has also led to the establishment of Local Steering Committees on SiLNAP. These committees team up with the National Steering Committee composed of government and civil society and led by the MSWGCA in coordinating the implementation of SiLNAP across the country. The Training for customary law officers on UNSCR 1325 and 1820 is also an important achievement of the Localization program.

“In implementing the principles of the WPS resolutions, we have to work in ways that are suitable for our communities. As Paramount Chiefs we play an important role in the informal justice sector and in mediating and preventing conflicts between individuals and communities. I take care to address conflicts involving women diligently, and to ensure that people understand that I aim to uphold women’s rights,” says PC Jalloh.

“I have made it a policy in my chiefdom that false claims against women will not be encouraged or allowed. For example, wicked men would make bogus allegations that their wives stole huge sums of money from them. They make charges in order to keep the woman in bondage since her relatives will not be in a position to pay back. That is now a thing of the past. Also, any man who divorces his wife after the harvesting of their farm crops must now share the income from the harvest even though they are divorced.” PC Jalloh is also promoting girls’ education and protection of women and girls from sexual violence. He convinced the chiefdom committee to impose big fines for those who are convicted of committing sexual violence. PC Jalloh also warned parents who cover up the sexual violence and protect perpetrators in exchange for money. In the area of economic empowerment, PC Jalloh is working with women’s groups to organize them as cooperatives so they can access skills training and credit assistance. A most recent challenge in Sierra Leone is the outbreak of Ebola.[3] Women are at the highest risk of cross transmission of the virus especially from male survivors. Two women in Nieni chiefdom contracted the virus and died as a result of either forced sexual intercourse or ignorance of the mode of transmission. PC Jalloh proposed a social mobilization strategy targeting and sensitizing women to abstain from sex especially those returning from the Ebola Virus Disease treatment centers. As a result, some women reported their husbands who tried to force them to have sex. PC Jalloh’s proposal was supported by the World Health Organization and civil society groups.

In the administration of justice, PC Jalloh ensures that cases involving women are decided in adherence to international human rights standards. The incidence of domestic violence has decreased due to stricter implementation of laws on gender-based violence. The role of traditional courts is very critical in this regard because the communities are so far away from the police stations and access to the magistrate courts is extremely difficult.

PC Jalloh attributes most of his work in promoting women and girls’ rights to the Localization program. “I am happy with these phenomenal successes so far from the Localization of our NAP in Sierra Leone,” he said. In the meantime, GNWP continues the Localization program by working with other local leaders like PC Jalloh to translate the words of Resolutions 1325 and 1820 into actions that would improve the lives of women and girls, men and boys—one village at a time.

Notes:

[1] PC Jalloh should have been the fifth generation paramount chief in his family but the chieftaincy houses were amalgamated in 1951 and because of that his family lost the chieftaincy until his victory in 2010.

[2] The GNWP members in Sierra Leone are the National Organization of Women (NOW-SL), Women in Peacebuilding Network (WIPNET), Women’s Partnership for Justice and Peace (WPJP) and Women’s Forum. NOW SL serves as the lead country coordinator of GNWP.

[3] In Liberia, part of the Localization program supported by Folke Bernadotte Academy was the production of radio public service announcement on UNSCR 1325 and 1820 which integrates messages on the intersection of women and peace and security issues with emergency situations like the Ebola outbreak.

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