We're working with our partner Fambul Initative Network for Equality - Sierra Leone (FINE Salone) to support survivors of gender-based violence, and challenge the harmful attitudes that can see perpetrators go unpunished.
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 (GBV), including rape and sexual assault, go under-reported.
In Kenema, we've been supporting local organisation FINE Salone to raise awareness of women's rights and the law, change attitudes, and support survivors to prosecute their perpetrators.
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 Salone 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 Salone 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, 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 Salone'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
"We all have a role to play"
Moribo Shakia, 52, is one of the community volunteers who have been recruited to reach out to fellow men like Ibrahim. He also raises awareness in the community through theatre plays and 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 Salone also directly supports women and girls with seeking justice for abuses committed 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 Salone 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"
Such cases are usually treated as local 'disputes', settled in private, often with money changing hands. Since FINE Salone 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.
Chief Mohamed Possible
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.