SIERRA LEONE: Traditional, Religious Leaders Discuss Gender and Maternal Health Issues

Saturday, October 30, 2010
Western Africa
Sierra Leone
PeaceWomen Consolidated Themes: 
Sexual and Gender-Based Violence
Human Rights

Over 40 paramount chiefs, traditional and religious leaders (imams and pastors) from Bo and Bombali districts on Wednesday 20th October, 2010 benefitted from a one-day workshop on gender based violence, reproductive and maternal health held at the Sahara Hotel in the southern headquarter town of Bo. The workshop was part of the implementation of the United Nations Joint Vision Program 18, which is the brainchild of the Executive Representative of the United Nations Secretary General to Sierra Leone, Michael Schulenburg and UNFPA's country representative Ratidzai Ndlovu. The session was aimed at building the capacity of paramount chiefs and religious heads on gender, reproductive and maternal health issues.

If the high maternal and infant deaths are to be reduced as a fundamental objective of the free health care policy, then the inclusion of chiefdom authorities and key stakeholders is crucial. Paramount chiefs command high respect in their localities and can draft by-laws on gender, reproductive and maternal health.

UNFPA's Reproductive Health Programme manager and facilitator, Dr. Jarrie Kabba Kebbay, noted that traditional leaders and religious heads have an integral role to play in the promotion of reproductive health. She urged the chiefs to serve as reproductive and maternal health ambassadors in their chiefdoms, and that they should advise their subjects on HIV/AIDS, maternal and reproductive health.

She attributed the lack of maternal support, poverty and delays as some of the leading causes of maternal death in the country.

Paramount Chief of Kakua chiefdom, Prince Lappia Boima IV, described the workshop as educative, noting that the inclusion of chiefs in the campaign against GBV and the promotion of reproductive and maternal health will have a major impact on the programme.

He commended the UNFPA for bringing traditional leaders on board to serve as activists in the fight against high infant and maternal mortality. He implored other chiefs to pass on the knowledge gained from the workshop to their subjects in their various sections and villages.

Masa Paki Kebombo II, Paramount Chief of Ma Paki Masa Bong chiefdom, Bombali district, said traditional leaders play an important role in health promotion as they are in control of a large percentage of the population in the country. He however observed that nurses hardly go to remote areas and therefore lauded the crucial role played by traditional birth attendants (TBAs) in aiding the smooth delivery of pregnant women in hospitals.

PC Kebombo II said TBAs should be seen working side-by-side with nurses in the implementation of the free health care policy for pregnant women, under fives and suckling mothers. He said he has designed by-laws on gender mainly to protect women and children, but expressed frustration over the indiscipline of young people who do not want to abide by law and order.

Meanwhile, all the traditional leaders committed themselves to the campaign on GBV and maternal mortality.

Director of Gender in the ministry of Social Welfare, Gender and Children's Affairs, Fatu Kargbo said the training was significant because they were hitherto enable to penetrate the grassroots communities without the support of the chiefs. She disclosed that chiefs and religious leaders command high respect in their chiefdoms, as they could develop by-laws on gender based violence and maternal mortality.

The Gender director urged the chiefs and religious leaders to use the training in bringing about change in their communities.

All the chiefs and religious leaders present committed themselves to the campaign on GBV and maternal mortality. Active mobilization and campaign on the reduction of maternal and infant mortality was among the action points noted at the workshop.

The chiefs are expected to work with TBAs and partners in the fight against GBV and maternal mortality.