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Sierra Leone holds Town Hall on Sexual, Gender-Based Violence

HomeAYV NewsSierra Leone holds Town Hall on Sexual, Gender-Based Violence

Sierra Leone holds Town Hall on Sexual, Gender-Based Violence

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AYV News, July 10, 2024

The Ministry of Gender and Children’s Affairs, in collaboration with various partners, including the Ministry of Information and Civic Education and the UN in Sierra Leone, hosted a nationwide town hall meeting to address the pressing issue of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV), at the Freetown City Council Auditorium. The event brought together voices from all sectors to discuss and develop strategies for combating these pervasive and inhumane acts.

In her opening remarks, Minister of Gender and Children’s affairs, Dr. Isata Mahoi, reaffirmed President Bio’s deep concern about the high incidence of rape and gender-based violence in the country, which she said has driven the initiative to convene a town hall meeting.

“We must come together as a nation to address the scourge of sexual and gender-based violence. This town hall is an opportunity for every district to contribute to finding effective solutions,” she said.

Dr. Mahoi further informed the gathering that, to ensure wide-reaching community participation and input, the town hall will be held in every district of Sierra Leone.

Anchored by the Minister of Information and Civic Education, Chernor Bah, the ensuing presentations by a panel of speakers, including the Inspector General of Police, William Fayia Sellu, Presidential Adviser on Gender, Mrs. Isatu Jabbie Kabba, Minister of Health, Dr. Austin Demby, Minister of Basic and Senior Secondary Education, Honourable Conrad Sackey, the Chief Justice, His Lordship, Nicholas Browne-Marke and Mr. Daniel Kettor, Director of Rainbow Center, focused on key initiatives from different sectors, highlighting and showcasing the government’s comprehensive approach to tackling SGBV and preferring solutions.

Daniel Kettor from The Rainbow Initiative, a prominent advocacy group, emphasised the importance of strengthening community engagement, justice, accountability, and multi-sectoral collaboration. “Addressing GBV requires a multi-faceted approach that includes every sector of society,” he said.

Minister of Health, Dr. Austin Demby, said that the Ministry of Health has reported all sexual violence cases to law enforcement agencies and trained 1,500 health workers to support GBV victims with respect and confidentiality.

“Our health workers are dedicated to treating victims with the utmost respect and ensuring their confidentiality,” he said, adding that the ministry is committed to reducing GBV and providing comprehensive support to victims.

In his presentation, the Minister of Basic and Senior Secondary Education. Conrad Sackey said the Ministry has implemented a sex education plan in schools to help pupils distinguish between harmful and positive interactions.

NGOs have set up clubs in schools to support this initiative, and a toll-free line (8060) is available to report sexual abuse in schools. Dr. Conrad Sackey furthered that Education is key to preventing GBV from occurring in the first place, disclosing that the Ministry is also rolling out a policy to educate parents on safeguarding their children at home.

Inspector General of Police, William Fayia Sellu, on his part, said law enforcement also plays a crucial role in curbing SGBV. The police, in partnership with the Rainbow Initiative, investigate SBV cases and seek justice for victims.

They also raise community awareness about GBV and have increased their Family Support Units from 82 to 92 to enhance the investigation and prosecution of GBV cases.

“We are committed to ensuring justice for victims and educating the community about the dangers and consequences of GBV,” stated the Inspector General of Police, William Fayia Sellu.

His Lordship, the Chief Justice, Nicholas Browne-Marke said the judiciary has established a special court for sexual violence in Freetown, with plans for decentralization.

He added that the justice system focuses on punishing perpetrators while minimising harm to families, particularly women and children. “Our goal is to deliver justice while maintaining the welfare of affected families,” he said.

Gender Adviser to the President, Isatu Jabbie Kabba in her succinct remarks revealed that President Bio has established a Presidential Taskforce on Gender-Based Violence, which collaborates with the Ministry of Gender and Children Affairs and other NGOs to combat SGBV.

“This task force is a testament to our commitment to eradicating GBV from our society,” she emphasised. Additionally, the government has set up one-stop centers in major hospitals across the country for GBV cases, with a toll-free line (1161) available to access these centers.

The Mayor of the Freetown City Council said in a bid to reducing the risk of girls being exposed to sexual violence while searching for water, Freetown City Council plans to establish over 60 boreholes in communities.

“Providing basic necessities like water can significantly reduce the risk of GBV,” noted the Mayor of Freetown, Yvonne Aki Sawyer.

Following the presentations from the panelists, an animated discussion with the audience ensued. Facilitated by the Minister of Information and Civic Education, Chernor Bah, submissions were made by a survivor, while Child Rights activists and representatives of Children’s Advocacy groups, NGOS and other members of the public gave testimonies on their experiences and suggested solutions.

Major challenges identified include customs and traditional beliefs, which were said to significantly influence attitudes and behaviors, often making individuals resistant to change regarding GBV. Issues of compromise, ineffective support, and underreporting of sexual abuse as major challenges in the fight against GBV were also discussed.

Bringing the day’s proceedings to an end, Minister Chernor Bah said that this comprehensive, multi-sectoral approach underscores the government’s commitment to creating a safer environment for all, especially women and children. “Together, we can make Sierra Leone a place where every individual can live free from the fear of violence,” he concluded.

 

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