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Justice for women who face violence in Sierra Leone

By Lucy Taylor


In Sierra Leone, as in many countries, domestic violence tends to be seen as a 'private issue'. This and other types of gender-based violence including rape and sexual assault (GBV) go under-reported.

In Kenema, VSO has been supporting local organisation Fambul Initiative Network for Equality - Sierra Leone (FINE-SALON) to raise awareness of women's rights and the law, change attitudes, and support survivors to prosecute their perpetrators.

Karitu Joe mother and children in Sierra Leone | VSO VSO/Heather Alcock

Karitu Joe, whose husband beat her so hard he broke her arm, says things are "more peaceful now".

‘Husband schools’

Karitu Joe works selling water in order to support six children aged between 2-15. She supports her husband too – despite the fact that until recently she only saw him when he came home to beat her.

“I was missing a tooth and had a broken arm. He said he wasn’t happy with the relationship,” she says.

Karitu's experience is sadly too common. Women are statistically most likely to experience violence at the hands of the people it may be most difficult to challenge or report: their intimate partners.

When Karitu heard about VSO's local partner FINE-SALON she turned to them in hope of help. Their remarkable ‘husband schools’ approach sees husbands like Karitu’s trained by volunteers to empathise with women and to control their anger. FINE-SALON worked worked with him and Karitu over a period of seven months:

“They explained to him about the impact of violence and the consequences of his actions. They also explained the legal consequences.

“Finally, he took an oath before the local authorities and promised not to beat me again. Things are more peaceful now.”

I used to beat my children

Ibrahim Kallan who worked with FINE-SALON husband schools ©VSO/Heather Alcock

Ibrahim Kallan, 52, has gone from taking out agression on his family, to trying to reduce conflicts between his neighbours

Ibrahim Kallan, 52, hasn't worked since the Ebola outbreak of 2015 shut the factory where he worked. He has struggled with his anger, which he used to take out on his family.

"I used to get annoyed over small issues. In fact I used to beat my own children. I have seen domestic violence between my neighbours too," he says.

He was approached by a male community volunteer engaged in FINE-SALON's VSO-supported project. He decided to join in the training on offer in order to play his part to 'make peace' in his community. But the effects are being felt at home too:

"My wife is pleased that I am not beating the children any more. We didn’t really realise that it was a crime before. She is very pleased because they are raising awareness about issues facing women. I hope that we will keep on talking." 

 "Since the training I have helped to settle quarrels in the community – before I would say that it wasn’t my business," says Ibrahim. 

“We are all citizens of our community and we all have a role to play. It is our social responsibility to volunteer for our community and make a difference”

Moribo Shakia, 52, community volunteer

Moribo Shakia, 52, is one of the men who have been recruited to reach out to men like Ibrahim as community volunteers. He also raises awareness in the community through theatre plays, through radio talks, and by speaking to boys and young men in schools.

Moribo says he is seeing a difference: “We are seeing changes in our own communities. There have been cases where people are going to jail and being prosecuted for gender based violence.”

I just wanted justice to prevail

FINE-SALON also directly support women and girls with seeking justice for abuses commited against them.

Aminata*, 15, was kidnapped and raped one early August evening as she went to run a simple errand for her aunt Yaema. When the girl was found dazed on the street the next day after her attacker had finally released her, Yaema was determined to get justice.

They were encouraged by FINE-SALON to liaise with the police and give evidence that eventually led to a successful prosecution. That support was vital, as the wider community was pressuring the family to drop the case against the rapist, who had confessed.

"They were trying to get me to compromise but I knew that he would continue if he was not reprimanded. I just wanted justice to prevail,” says Yaema.

We are afraid of the laws now

Chief Mohamed Possible in Kenema, Sierra Leone | VSO ©VSO/Heather Alcock

Chief Mohamed Possible, a local leader, who has helped create new bye-laws against gender-based violence since becoming involved in our project with FINE-SALON

Such cases are usually treated as local 'disputes', settled in private, often with money changing hands. Since FINE-SALON and its community volunteers began their work things have begun to change.

Local leaders, such as Chief Mohamed Possible, have been engaged to come together to make local bye-laws against GBV. He says men now know that atrocities such as rape and wife beating are crimes for which they will be prosecuted:

“Before this project started, we would make compromise marriages and settle cases out of court. But not now. All of us are changing –we are afraid of the laws. We know that if you commit that crime you will be punished.”

Promise of progress

FINE-SALON’s work seems to be making some progress: The local police station had 620 cases involving violence against women and girls referred in the six months to September 2016, compared with an average of 74 in districts where the project is not operating.

Local leaders, such as Chief Mohamed Possible, have come together to make local bye-laws against GBV and say men now know that atrocities such as rape and wife beating are crimes for which they will be prosecuted:

“Before this project started, we would make compromise marriages and settle cases out of court. But not now. All of us are changing –we are afraid of the laws. We know that if you commit that crime you will be punished.”

About one in three women in the world will face physical or sexual violence from an intimate partner. Read more stories from women who've survived violence around the world, and learn what VSO has been doing about gender-based violence in our digital feature story.

Volunteer opportunity

We urgently need a gender-based violence specialist to work with Rozan, our local partner in Pakistan, to help the Pakistan Forum for Democratic Policing strengthen its governance and help broker dialogue with senior stakeholders and policy makers in area of gender based violenceFunding stipulations require candidates for this role to be a South Asian national or of Asian extraction.

 

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