From Awareness Times Newspaper in Freetown

CIVIL SOCIETY Shadow Report on CEDAW in Sierra Leone
By Awareness Times
May 7, 2007, 19:20

What is CEDAW?

The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), adopted in 1979 by the UN General Assembly, is often described as an international bill of rights for women.

The Convention defines discrimination against women as "...any distinction, exclusion or restriction made on the basis of sex which has the effect or purpose of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by women, irrespective of their marital status, on a basis of equality of men and women, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field."

By accepting the Convention (which Sierra Leone did in 1988), States commit themselves to undertake a series of measures to end discrimination against women in all forms, including:

· to incorporate the principle of equality of men and women in their legal system, abolish all discriminatory laws and adopt appropriate ones prohibiting discrimination against women;

· to establish tribunals and other public institutions to ensure the effective protection of women against discrimination; and

· to ensure elimination of all acts of discrimination against women by persons, organizations or enterprises.

The Convention provides the basis for realizing equality between women and men through ensuring women’s equal access to, and equal opportunities in, political and public life — including the right to vote and to stand for election — as well as education, health and employment. States parties agree to take all appropriate measures, including legislation and temporary special measures, so that women can enjoy all their human rights and fundamental freedoms.

The Convention is the only human rights treaty which affirms the reproductive rights of women and targets culture and tradition as influential forces shaping gender roles and family relations. It affirms women’s rights to acquire, change or retain their nationality and the nationality of their children. States parties also agree to take appropriate measures against all forms of traffic in women and exploitation of women.

Countries that have ratified or acceded to the Convention are legally bound to put its provisions into practice. They are also committed to submit national reports, at least every four years, on measures they have taken to comply with their treaty obligations.

What is a Shadow Report?

When there is access to the government report that is to be sent to the CEDAW Committee, NGOs can critique it. The Shadow Report is meant to give emphasis to the prevalence and magnitude of the critical issues women in a country face and of which the government has downplayed or failed to highlight. The CEDAW Committee would read all reports sent and use it for validation during the sessions with respective governments.

Why Prepare a Shadow Report?

· It is an important document delineating a comprehensive assessment of the status of women in all aspects of life.

· NGOs who write these reports represent the voices of women in the community they are closely linked to.

· The Shadow Report also outlines the discrepancies and gaps in the government report.

· It would also serve to highlight issues that are deemed ‘sensitive / controversial’ and is not mentioned in the government report.

· The knowledge that there is going to be a Shadow Report would also add pressure on the government during the reporting process. This is an added compulsion for them to ensure that steps are taken to eliminate discrimination against women in the country.

· The Shadow Report also highlights the ‘de facto’ situation of discrimination in the country.

Potential Impact of a Shadow Report!

CSOs & NGOs can play a crucial role in alerting States to their obligations. They can serve as a facilitating link with communities and individuals, and feed information to and from State institutions to citizens.

They become particularly vital centres of advocacy around women’s interests and rights given State resistance to implementing change. NGOs, particularly where staffed or influenced strongly by feminist agendas, can play a particularly effective role in addressing issues of women’s rights and empowerment at local levels, and feeding insights from the field into national and international advocacy.

NGO interventions and advocacy in relation to specific processes of the CEDAW Convention can have several spin-off effects. At the international level, NGO involvement in the CEDAW Convention reporting process can help to feed important information to other bodies of the UN and ultimately influence international processes, policies and programmes. It can also work its influence domestically, where it helps to bring NGOs together to discuss important aspects of State action, emphasise collaborative work in expanding ideas and activism around rights, create greater media awareness, and ensure that state interventions are being monitored and assessed for effectiveness. NGOs can also publicise State reports and the concluding comments of the CEDAW Committee to a wider national audience, where States may avoid doing so. At the local level, discussions around concepts and practice of women’s rights can provide a very sound basis for influencing policy and creating spaces for change.

,The Sierra Leonean Context

Sierra Leone signed and ratified the CEDAW convention in 1988. Despite its obligations, Sierra Leone has to date failed to present a report on the country situation and its own progress in implementing the convention it signed up to.

With assistance from UNIFEM, the present Government has for the past year and a half been working on a report to present to the CEDAW committee in New York. The final report has been completed and is due to be presented at the 38th session of CEDAW beginning on May 14, 2007.

Civil Society has recently begun mobilizing in response to this Government report. Since October 2006 a number of meetings have taken place both in Freetown and Makeni (where a coalition was formed) and a variety of organizations have got involved in preparing a Shadow which is now complete and has been sent to the CEDAW committee in New York.

Representatives from this CEDAW Civil Society Shadow Report Coalition will be going to New York to monitor and lobby the GoSL’s own report but also to present its own report, a summary of which is provided below.

© Copyright 2005, Freetown, Sierra Leone.