Sierra Leone - Violence against women a way of life?

''All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing'' - Edmund Burke


S I E R R A  H E R A L D

Vol XI No 8

The tendency sometimes to protect perpetrators for the sake of peace...doesn't help society. Impunity should not be allowed to stand. - Kofi Annan on Waki report

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Thursday February 14, 2013 - Valentine's Day celebrations? No the world focuses on violence against women. Violence against women and the girl child has to stop especially in Sierra Leone where more than a decade after the war was declared over violence against women and the girl child in the form of rape, physical and mental abuse and murder remains unpunished in a system that turns a blind eye to such unwholesome acts of impunity. Time to remove the smoke and mirrors, smell the coffee and punish the perpetrators.

Today Thursday 14th February is a day of action in a thematic action titled 1 Billion Rising because the organisers say - "The truth is shocking. According to the United Nations, one of every three women on the planet will be physically or sexually abused in her lifetime. Although sources of violence may seem diverse, women's responses sound tragically similar. Besides the pain and strength you will hear in their survival stories, the themes that resound across cultures and geographies are of the indifference of authorities, the familial instinct of denial, and the lack of public outrage about the violence that millions of women experience every day. V-Day was born of the belief that until these themes are addressed, these violations named and taken up by whole communities as an unacceptable desecration of human dignity, the violence will continue."

If you observe those who carry out or encourage violence against women and the girl child in Sierra Leone, they would be all smiles today, presenting gifts and cards to their "sophisticated" victims while continuing to treat the poor and economically-disadvantaged with disdain and scorn as impunity is encouraged on a massive scale in the country.

School-going girls are forced into a form of sexual slavery as those with thieving hands in state coffers use tax payers' resources to buy off worried and concerned parents; college ladies are forced, because of their economic prison situation to sell their bodies to politicians and those with economic clout just so they can live a life, which on the surface looks bright and rosy, but which in reality is a mirage that hides the shame and deep pain brought about by poverty. The scourge of rape continues unabated as does violence against women, encouraged it would appear by all three arms of governance, the Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary with the latter either unwilling or unable to enforce sections of the law that should punish perpetrators.

The International Rescue Committee's unit in Sierra Leone in one report talks about rape victims reaching a mindset where instead of outing their violators get blamed for the outrage committed against them - "women and girls are regularly blamed for the rapes they suffer and assailants are rarely prosecuted...a dedicated team help dozens of girls like Fulamatu every month at the IRC’s three Rainbow Centres – facilities that provide medical care, counselling, legal aid and educational support for survivors of sexual violence...the vast majority of clients are girls who have been sexually assaulted by men whom they know — neighbours, relatives, even pastors.

And this is Sierra Leone, peace time Sierra Leone - a country that should have woken up from the nightmare of the war in which rape was used as a weapon of war. On March 8, 2010, as the world celebrated the lives of women we drew attention to the situation in Sierra Leone where a damning report titled "Rape suspects have a field day in Sierra Leone" by the UN Office in Sierra Leone which states that out of 927 rape cases in 2009 not a single suspect was convicted.

One report highlights how poverty and the use of pressure on rape victims help to shield perpetrators from justice - "Most times victims compromise [cases] by accepting money from perpetrators and withdraw charges; this is largely due to poverty...but the stigma attached to rape was also a potent factor....women's tendency to abandon charges against rapists was widespread and put all women in danger."

We had in the past drawn the attention of the authorities in Sierra Leone to the unacceptable levels of violence against women but all our cries appear to have fallen on deaf ears, the same ears that refused to heed the massive looting of state coffers as exposed in the Annual Reports of the Auditor General.

When the opposition Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP) headquarters were attacked by the security forces and supporters of the ruling All Peoples Congress (APC) party led by one Ernest Bai Koroma and there were allegations of rape by the women found in the building, supporters of the government including the President's Press Secretary at the time, one Sheka Tarawallie (Shekito) derided the report of an investigating committee headed by legal luminary Justice Bankole Thompson.

When a woman protester was shot and killed by the APC armed wing, the OSD of the police in Bumbuna, it was this same thing who wrote in his online Torchlight outlet that the murdered Musu Conteh was killed by an SLPP sniper!!!.

Up to the time of reporting, the government has still not given an update on the death of two Sierra Leoneans, one of them a woman in a mysterious fire in which one Abdul Mustapha and his female companion were murdered. Despite rumours doing the rounds that both were bludgeoned to death in an organised murder campaign the man in charge of the police investigations at the time, one Francis Munu who is now the Chief of Police has not made any public statement on the deaths nor has he released the post mortem results conducted before the bodies were hurriedly buried.

We are happy to report that the fight against violence perpetrated against women and the girl child has received a shot in the arm with US President Barack Obama himself issuing a special order m - Presidential Memorandum -- Coordination of Policies and Programs to Promote Gender Equality and Empower Women and Girls Globally. The US President noted:

"Promoting gender equality and advancing the status of all women and girls around the world remains one of the greatest unmet challenges of our time, and one that is vital to achieving our overall foreign policy objectives. Ensuring that women and girls, including those most marginalized, are able to participate fully in public life, are free from violence, and have equal access to education, economic opportunity, and health care increases broader economic prosperity, as well as political stability and security."

This new move has resulted in the creation of the post of Ambassador at Large with duties among others -

(a) Enhancing U.S. global leadership on gender equality requires dedicated resources, personnel with appropriate expertise in advancing the status of women and girls worldwide, and commitment from senior leadership, as exemplified by the critical and historic role played by the Office of Global Women's Issues at the Department of State.

To assure maximum coordination of efforts to promote gender equality and advance the status of women and girls, the Secretary of State (Secretary) shall designate a coordinator (Coordinator), who will normally also be appointed by the President as an Ambassador at Large (Ambassador at Large) subject to the advice and consent of the Senate. The Ambassador at Large, who shall report directly to the Secretary of State, shall lead the Office of Global Women's Issues at the Department of State and provide advice and assistance on issues related to promoting gender equality and advancing the status of women and girls internationally.

Yearning for the mother country?

The right choice is Kevin McPhilips Travel

©Sierra Herald 2002

Yearning for the mother country?

The right choice is Kevin McPhilips Travel

©Sierra Herald 2002