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Gender based violence in Sierra Leone – ministry of social welfare stands firm

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Gender based violence in Sierra Leone – ministry of social welfare stands firm

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60% of the population of Sierra Leone are women. Yet, women suffer disproportionately from gender based violence, because of societal values and a general acceptance that violence against women and children is fair game.

The report, by the Institute for Economics and Peace think-tank, warned that the global economic impact of violence totalled $13.6 trillion in 2016.

“The 2016 Global Peace Index (GPI) shows the world became less peaceful in the last year, reinforcing the underlying trend of declining peace over the last decade. Results also show a growing global inequality in peace, with the most peaceful countries continuing to improve while the least peaceful are falling into greater violence and conflict,” according to the report.

The report found that between 2015 and 2016, while 81 countries’ peace improved, some 79 others deteriorated. These outweighed the gains, meaning that global peace declined at a faster rate than in the previous year.

The Middle East and Africa was the least peaceful region in the world in last year’s report, and dropped even further in 2016, suffering as regional conflicts intensified.

Whilst Sierra Leoneans may generally be enjoying political stability and peace, as successive governments continue to build on the country’s post-war democratic foundation, the same cannot be said for a high percentage of women in the country that are routinely experiencing gender based violence on a daily basis. (Photo: Sierra Leone’s war victim remembered).

Take the recent case of a woman, who had to flee for her life in the Bonthe district of Sierra Leone named madam S.E. to protect her real name, from a group of men. What was her crime?

According to the culprits – men claiming to be members of a traditional secret society, ‘she interfered with their secrets’.

According to the ministry of social welfare the woman is now safe and sound.

Sierra Leone may be ranked as the 5th most politically peaceful country in Africa according to the Global Peace Index, but there is little doubt its one of the most violent and lawless in Africa today.

The task facing the ministry of social welfare, children, gender and religious affairs is to work with the criminal justice system to bring an end to such inhumane and disgraceful violence or fear of violence in Sierra Leone.

Too many people in Sierra Leone are afraid for their personal safety and security, and their general sense of well-being is very poor.

While there are adequate laws in the country guaranteeing the rights of women and the girl child in Sierra Leone, the administration of justice by the police and the protection of the vulnerable are weak.

This is what the ministry of social welfare said in its press statement “Condemning a Societal Violence against a Woman in Bonthe Municipality”:

Tuesday 26th July, 2016.

“The Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs is concerned about the recent societal violence suffered by a woman; Madam E. S (full name withheld) in Bonthe Municipality on 16th July, 2016 by some youths who claimed to be members of the Poro Society in Bonthe.

“The youths alleged that the woman interfered with what they described as ‟sacred” to men which should be unspoken of by female counterparts.

“Whilst the Ministry fully respects the culture and traditions of the aggrieved youths, we believe the youths should have channelled their complaints through an established legal system instead of taking the law into their own hands.

“Therefore, the Ministry views the action of these youths as undermining the Government’s Agenda for Prosperity which aims at empowering women and other marginalized groups.

“The ensuing violence also resulted in loss of lives of some youths as they clashed with security personnel. Such loss of lives is so needless and we extend sympathies to bereaved families and the injured.

“Meanwhile Government will like to assure that Madam E.S is currently safe and unharmed. Social Services Officers in Bonthe and our Southern Province Officers for Advancement of Women & Gender, are closely monitoring the situation.

“The Ministry wants to also use this opportunity to hereby express its appreciation to the Honourable Chief Justice for the ongoing deployment of Magistrates to all districts in Sierra Leone and we look forward to Bonthe getting its own Resident Magistrate in the shortest possible time.”

In a related though separate development, the ministry of social welfare says that it has concluded a four-day senior staff retreat, where discussions about how to improve the delivery of services to those most vulnerable in society was discussed.

The ministry said this about the retreat:

“With a strong commitment by its assembled staff to transform and improve on service delivery, the retreat had participants successfully making meaningful contributions in charting the way forward in the ministry.

“Long serving officials also confirmed that this was the very first time in over 25 years for the Ministry in charge of Social Welfare, to hold such a retreat of all its senior staff in the districts and regions.

“The 4-day retreat initially aimed at having Donor Partners and Implementing Agencies join the discussions on Day 4. However, the issues which emerged out of concerns from Provincial offices and staff stationed there, especially of the Case Management and Child Protection Information Management & Internet Systems, were so extensive and of such importance that they took up the entire 4 days.

“During frank and candid exchanges, every single one of the 13 Heads of Districts and all 4 Regional Directors, unanimously endorsed the overall assessment of the Child Protection Donor-funded Internet systems by the Ministry’s staff drawn from all over the country. The unanimous position is that the Child Protection Project has failed and needed comprehensive restructuring.

“Whilst another retreat which will include the full participation of Partners is now being planned, the outcome of this just-concluded retreat, including the way forward for the Ministry’s district and regional operations, will be communicated to all relevant higher authorities.”

When will the most vulnerable in Sierra Leone begin to enjoy their freedom from violence and marginalisation?

The brutal war in Sierra Leone had its roots in injustice, dis-empowerment, brutality and social marginalisation. Sierra Leone may be enjoying the peace today, but if all forms of violence are not curbed – especially gender-based violence and political violence, peace in Sierra Leone may be short lived, and its economic future and prosperity will continue to be uncertain.

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