Gender Ministry & Partners Conclude First Town Hall Meeting on SGBV

Ministry of Gender and Children’s Affairs.jpg

By Foday Moriba Conteh

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 on Monday, 8th July 2024, at the Freetown City Council Auditorium. The event aimed to address the pressing issue of Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV) and brought together voices from all sectors to discuss and develop strategies for combating these pervasive and inhumane acts.

In her opening remarks, the Minister of Gender and Children’s Affairs, Dr Isata Mahoi, reaffirmed President Bio’s deep concern related to the high incidence of rape and gender-based violence in the country. “We must come together as a nation to address the scourge of sexual and gender-based violence. This town hall meeting is an opportunity for every district to contribute to finding effective solutions,” she stated.

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

The event, chaired by the Minister of Information and Civic Education, Chernor Bah, featured presentations from a panel of speakers. These included the Inspector General of Police, William Fayia Sellu; Presidential Adviser on Gender,  Isatu Jabbie Kabba; Minister of Health, Dr. Austin Demby; Minister of Basic and Senior Secondary Education, Conrad Sackey; Chief Justice Nicholas Browne-Marke and Daniel Kettor, Director of the Rainbow Center. The presentations focused on key initiatives from different sectors, highlighting the Government’s comprehensive approach to tackling SGBV and proposing solutions.

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

Dr. Austin Demby, Minister of Health, reported that the Ministry of Health has trained 1,500 health workers to support SGBV victims with respect and confidentiality and has ensured that all sexual violence cases are reported to law enforcement agencies. “Our health workers are dedicated to treating victims with the utmost respect and ensuring their confidentiality,” he said.

Conrad Sackey, Minister of Basic and Senior Secondary Education, discussed the implementation of 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, according to him.

He pointed out that the Ministry is also rolling out a policy to educate parents on safeguarding their children at home. “Education is key to preventing SGBV from occurring in the first place,” he stated.

William Fayia Sellu, Inspector General of Police, highlighted the crucial role of law enforcement in curbing SGBV. The police, in partnership with the Rainbow Initiative, investigate SGBV cases and seek justice for victims, he informed. He highlighted how they also raise community awareness about SGBV 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,” he stated.

Nicholas Browne-Marke, Acting Chief Justice, noted that the judiciary has established a special court for sexual violence in Freetown, with plans for decentralization. He emphasized that the justice system focuses on punishing perpetrators while minimizing harm to families, particularly women and children. “Our goal is to deliver justice while maintaining the welfare of affected families,” he said.

Isatu Jabbie Kabba, Presidential Adviser on Gender, revealed that President Bio has established a Presidential Taskforce on Gender-Based Violence, which collaborates with the Ministry of Gender and Children’s Affairs and other NGOs to combat SGBV. “This task force is a testament to our commitment to eradicating GBV from our society,” she emphasized.

Additionally, she maintained that the Government has set up one-stop centers in major hospitals across the country for SGBV cases, with a toll-free line (1161) available to access those centers.

Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr, Mayor of Freetown, announced that the Freetown City Council plans to establish over 60 boreholes in communities to reduce the risk of girls being exposed to sexual violence while searching for water. “Providing basic necessities like water can significantly reduce the risk of SGBV,” she noted.

Following the presentations, an animated discussion with the audience ensued, facilitated by Minister Chernor Bah. Submissions were made by a survivor, child rights activists, representatives of children’s advocacy groups, NGOs and other members of the public, who shared their experiences and suggested solutions. Major challenges identified included customs and traditional beliefs, issues of compromise, ineffective support and the underreporting of sexual abuse.

Minister Chernor Bah concluded the event by emphasizing 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 stated.



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