By Amin Kef Sesay (Ranger)
The indefatigable Chairperson of the Board of Directors of the National Revenue Authority (NRA), Tuma Adama Gento-Kamara, was the proud recipient of an African Excellence in Public Office Award presented to her by the Coalition of Women in Africa for Peace and Development at the Marriot Hotel during the 3rd edition of the African Women Summit held from 12th – 14th May 2022 in Kigali, Rwanda, (The Land of a Thousand Hills). The award was in appreciation for her in the area of women empowerment and her sterling as well as tremendous positive and selfless contributions made by her so far in public affairs.
Prior to her departure to Rwanda, the result-oriented legal luminary was officially and specially invited in her capacity as Chairperson of the Board of Directors of the National Revenue Authority of Sierra Leone by the Founder of the Coalition of Women in Africa for Peace and Development (COWAP) , Amb Belema Meshack-Hart, in a letter dated the 14th April, 2022 to deliver a talk.
In her invitation letter, she was intimated that COWAP brings her greetings from her Excellency Dr. Jewel Howard Taylor, the Vice President of the Republic of Liberia who is the Co-Chairperson of the Coalition of Women in Africa for Peace and Development (COWAP).
She was also informed that this year, Kigali, Rwanda (The Land of a Thousand Hills) will host the 3rd edition of the African Women Summit from 12th – 14th May 2022, with the theme, “Examining the Critical Role Women Play as Agents of Peace and Sustainable Development”.
Tuma Adama Gento –Kamara was assigned the task of to speak at the fireside chat on the topic: “Climbing the Corporate Ladder: Strategies for Standing Out in a Men Dominated World.”
Addressing a well attended summit, the NRA Board Chairperson, Tuma Adama Gento-Kamara conveyed greetings from a beautiful country on the West Coast of Africa, a country known for its historical role in the settlement of free slaves and a land known as the cradle of freedom.
She revealed that as early as 1957, a young Lady by the name of Ella Koblo Gulama became the first female Paramount Chief and the first female Member of Parliament in Sierra Leone, in an era when politics and traditional leadership was a male dominated affair.
According to her she is present to talk about the role women play as agents of peace and sustainable development. She said from what she understands Peace is a state of tranquility or quiet such as freedom from external and internal disturbances, a state of security or order within and without in the lives of individuals and communitiesas provided for by law.
Madam Gento-Kamara furthered that our recent history has proven that we are constant victims of war maintaining that across the human race, the African woman is clothed with a unique characteristic which she thinks must be celebrated. She added that at the moment she celebrates the ‘Africaness’ of our womanhood.
Quoting a proverb, “Frailty, thy name is woman”, which she said is generally attributed to women in the world is one that is also saying women are weak, less tough as compared to men.
However, Madam Gento-Kamara maintained that such is not the case for the African woman because when one talks about the African woman, one must keep in mind that one is dealing with an extraordinary creation with an unusual finesse that goes beyond accepted projections.
“The African woman is fashionable, spiritual, family oriented, humorous, ecstatic, sexy, and sensual,”she proudly asserted.
She gave a brief example of her upbringing which she said was at first rosy but went soar when war break out in the country and her influential father was imprisoned leading her to go through struggles.
Generalizing her experience, she said that is the story of an African Woman in search of greener pastures informing all that today she is educated, a mother to many, happily married, and professionally accomplished.
Posing the questions : “Where do one go after achieving these things?”, “What can we really do?”, “What can we do when about 40% of global average pregnancies are teenage pregnancies and 50% of them end up in abortion, 38% result in birthsbut are not adequately catered for?”
Those questions were followed by: “What can we do……?”, “What can we do when it is clear to all in this room that women receive lower medical care than men?”
The NRA Chairperson pointed out that according to an international reputable source over one billion women hardly have legal protection against domestic sexual violence or economic violence.
She then asked: “What can we do?”
Madam Gento-Kamara told the august gathering that in many countries, there’s a lack of legal protection against harassment in the workplace, in schools and in public.
She intimated how she read somewhere that all national Parliaments at the beginning of 2019 only have 24.3% of seats filled by women also stating that as of June 2019, 11 Heads of State were women.
According to her , despite progress in that area over the years, women are still grossly underrepresented in Government and the political process maintaining that such means that certain issues that female politicians tend to bring up are often neglected.
She underscored that over and above the meetings, the communiqué and the advocacies she reckons the emergence of an awakening in the hearts and minds of women everywhere on those issues.
She informed how Sierra Leone has played key roles in enacting laws that protect and seek the interest of women referencing the Devolution of Estate Act 2007, the Domestic Violence Act 2007, the Child Right Act 2007 and currently the Gender Bill is being tabled for enactment.
According to her, those laws, from all intent and purpose, have helped to protect women and girls from all forms of discrimination in inheritance right, violence of every nature, seeking the welfare of the child, and above all when ultimately the Gender Bill is enacted, women shall have at least 30% representation in the public sector.
She said despite differences all women they all have one thing in common that confronts them as budding and established African Woman on the Continent.
“We are confronted with a menace that has refused to bow to the dictates of contemporary phenomenon and as we push further, like elastic, the gap is becoming wider and wider,” she informed adding how the 2021 global gender gap published by the world economic forum is a testament to that maintaining that the global gender gap index benchmarks the evolution of gender-based gaps among four key dimensions which are Economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, health and survival plus political attainment.
She said in that report, the World Economic Forum tracks progress towards closing those gaps overtime stating that such will indeed take time.
The Board Chairperson furthered that functioning as Agents of peace could be a result of putting adequate structures within societies for women to thrive.
According to her, gender equality is the frame from which every other issue on women’sempowerment should have their bearing. She strongly argued that the status of women across societies in Africa is a reflection of unequal relationship sustained by patriarchy, built on male superiority and female inferiority, and supported by stereotype roles.
Madam Gento-Kamara also firmly maintained that the expectation of economic, social and political predominance of men and dependency of women is rife.
The audience applauded her when she stated that women are key to achieving sustainable peace and development solutions adding that whether it is peacebuilding, peacekeeping or conflict and crisis response, calls should be made on the international community to invest more in the meaningful inclusion of women at all stages from participation to prevention, protection to resolution and recovery.
She also strongly affirmed that evidence shows that women’s involvement in peace negotiations contributes to the quality and durability of peace agreements, as well as a higher number of provisions aimed at political reform and higher implementation rates.
“Women and their empowerment are crucial to advancing the culture of peace in all its sectors — education, sustainable economic and social development, human rights and equality, democratic participation, advocacy based on true knowledge but also wisdom, tolerance and understanding at all levels — in the family, community, country, region and globally,” she averred.
Madam Tuma Adama Gento-Kamara said women must not only be protected from war and the violence unleashed but they must be seen as agents of conflict prevention, of peacemaking and as reconcilers in peacebuilding in post-conflict situations.
Pointing out that much of the conflicts today are between States with specific reference to the Russia/ Ukraine war, she argued, that the consequence of that war makes it even more urgent for the international community to support women’s role and agency and leadership to rein in the forces of terror and violence, in protecting themselves and the community, bringing their sons and daughters to the peace table, and being there to hold them to the purpose of peace, to rebuild peaceful and sustainable societies and economies.
Quoting one time UN Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon, “Through education, we teach children not to hate. Through education, we raise leaders who act with wisdom and compassion. Through education, we establish a true, lasting culture of peace,” she pointed out that mothers, grandmothers and other family members, often being the first teachers of children, women can play a vital role in educating young people to value peace and not war.
Again referencing Jane Addams who once said: “Peace is not merely an absence of war, it’s a nurture of human life and, in time, this nurture will do away with war as a natural process,”, the sagacious NRA Board Chairperson rhetorically asked the question of who can be better at that than women who are natural nurturers, who are better disposed to find solutions through dialogue, who are sensitive to human needs and rights and inter-generational perspectives?
She pointed out that though societies and situations have a way of misdirecting women’s true nature but said, however, they are natural carriers of life, peace and destiny.
According to her, the role of women as agents of peace has also been affirmed in various normative instruments of the United Nations revealing that perhaps most importantly it is in the landmark Security Council resolution 1325 on peace and security. She stated that the Security Council adopted Resolution 2122, which reaffirmed the role of women in peace and security also mentioning gender equality as necessary to ensure sustainable peace.
“In Liberia, women devised the peace hut mechanism in which local women leaders mediate and resolve local and domestic conflicts before they escalate into violence,” she said adding that in the peace huts, now numbering 17 in rural Liberia, women leaders are also referring survivors to services, liaising with local police through a mobile phone hotline, and engaging in local peacebuilding efforts.
Making reference also to South Sudan, she said International Women Organizations have supported in select communities women’s empowerment centers where sexual and gender-based violence-prevention activities and referrals take place.
Based on her address, in Liberia, Timor-Leste, Uganda and Haiti, women are supported by local organizations to build referral services and networks for survivors, such as reproductive health care, access to justice, livelihood support and psychosocial counselling.
She energized that women must continue to break those stereotypes and beliefs that undermine the role of women in peace and security.
“We must focus on improving the access to education of girls and all young people, providing a secure environment for them to learn, breaking down gender stereotypes in school curricula and teacher training programmes, advancing understanding, tolerance, and solidarity, and ultimately spreading a culture of gender equality which will lead to a culture of peace,” she suggested.
She expressed the hope that Governments will come together to agree on a vision for the future adding how gender equality is crucial to the success of that future agenda.
Coherently and emphatically she maintained that there can be no human rights, peace or sustainable development without gender equality and the realization of women and girls’ rights further stressing the need to put policy into practice.
She told the august gathering that it was Eleanor Roosevelt, another great female peacemaker, who once said: “For it isn’t enough to talk about peace. One must believe in it. And it isn’t enough to believe in it. One must work at it.”
She enthused that there is no question that one must both believe in and work at the nexus between gender equality and women’s empowerment and peace, telling all to take their talks and advocacies beyond the hall to make sure women’s value and contributions to peace are integrated in peace strategy processes and outcomes.
“We must all work to increase investment in building the capacity of women’s organizations and local civil society networks working in conflict and post-conflict settings, in line with Security Council resolution 2122,” she also inspired stressing that there is no question that a culture of peace requires the participation of women, especially young women.
“So, I ask women and youth of the world to unite to make sure that half of humanity is liberated from violence and discrimination, has the power of decision-making in all spheres, and has the economic muscle to nurture a culture of peace and rollback the tides of conflict,” she called for action..
Tuma Adama Gento-Kamara also called on the international community and the culture for peace constituency to continue to play its leading role in fostering an international environment which recognizes and promotes women and girls’ rights by engaging women as well as men, girls as well as boys, in their quest for peaceful and non-violent societies.
She concluded by saying that, “from Freetown to Nairobi, from Kigali to Johannesburg, our journey from survival to dignity and empowerment demands that we all should come together to tackle these issues first at the community level, then at the national, regional, and global level” followed by a deafening round of applause that lasted over five minutes.