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Cablegate: In the Nick of Time: Parliament Passes Three Gender Bills

VZCZCXRO0485
PP RUEHMA RUEHPA
DE RUEHFN #0386 1711047
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 201047Z JUN 07
FM AMEMBASSY FREETOWN
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 1158
INFO RUEHZK/ECOWAS COLLECTIVE

UNCLAS FREETOWN 000386

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

DEPARTMENT FOR AF/W, DRL

E.O. 12958
TAGS: PGOV KDEM PHUM PINR SL
SUBJECT: IN THE NICK OF TIME: PARLIAMENT PASSES THREE GENDER BILLS
TO PROMOTE EQUAL RIGHTS


1. (U) On June 14, just days before it officially dissolves,
Parliament unanimously passed three bills related to gender issues.
The three pieces of legislation include: the Devolution of Estate;
the Registration of Customary Marriages and Divorce; and the
Domestic Violence Bills. With President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah's urging,
Parliament shepherded the bills through hearings and the legislative
committee in less than two weeks. These three bills represent a
small yet significant step towards meeting international standards
on gender equality, including the ratification of the Convention on
the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women
(CEDAW). President Kabbah observed that these laws will help Sierra
Leone become "a land of equal rights and equal opportunity
regardless of gender."

2. (U) The Devolution of Estate Bill outlines provisions for
intestate succession. The bill contains language that grants
inheritance rights to children born out of wedlock, who were
previously excluded under the old law. The bill also includes in the
definition of spouse individuals who have cohabited with the
deceased for ten or more years.

3. (U) The Registration of Customary Marriages and Divorce Bill
requires consent be granted for girls under the age of 18 to marry.
It also empowers either spouse to acquire property and guarantees
that women, when seeking a divorce, must not repay any gifts,
payments, or dowries. Before the current bill, women had no legal
protection and often would remain in an unhealthy relationships out
of fear the husband would request repayment of gifts or dowries.

4. (U) Domestic violence is quite prevalent in Sierra Leone and
often surrounded by a culture of silence. Under customary law, it is
within husbands' rights to administer reasonable punishments to
wives. The Domestic Violence Bill provides a comprehensive
definition of domestic violence, including physical and sexual
abuse, emotional, verbal, and psychological abuse, economic abuse,
intimidation, harassment and stalking, damage to property, entry
into residence without consent, and any abusive or threatening
confrontation. The bill also provides mechanisms to address domestic
violence including, mediation, punishment of the perpetrator through
criminal law and protection of victims through civil law.

5. (U) President Kabbah, who issued a certificate of urgency for
these bills to push through their timely passage, pledged in his
June 19 farewell speech to Parliament that the "Government will
continue to empower women in all areas of endeavor so that soon, all
of us in Sierra Leone can proudly say that this is a land of equal
rights and equal opportunity regardless of gender." He particularly
noted the need for "adequate protection for women against violence,"
citing specifically "harmful cultural practices against the
girl-child," a reference to female genital mutilation.

6. (SBU) COMMENT: There was uncertainty that these bills would be
passed before Parliament dissolves on June 25. Their passage is a
welcome sign that Sierra Leone is making progress towards achieving
greater gender parity and providing greater protection for segments
of the population that have been vulnerable to sexual and
gender-based violence. However, implementation and enforcement of
this new legislation will remain a challenge for the Sierra Leone
Police and a weak judiciary system, which remain constrained by a
lack of capacity and resources. END COMMENT.

HULL

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