By Amin Kef Sesay
In modern day Sierra Leone, the rate at which Gender Based Violence is ascending has become so alarming despite the fact that various rights-based and feminine groups have been mounting incessant advocacies to ensure that stringent measures must be instituted to stem the tide at which it keeps increasing.
Before delving into the nitty-gritty of what are the propelling forces responsible for this unpalatable phenomenon, let us contextually try to actually know what it is and the various forms it takes.
According to research, Gender-Based Violence or GBV, as it is commonly known, simply refers to any violence that is directed at an individual based on his or her biological sex or gender identity. It includes physical, sexual, verbal, emotional and psychological abuse, threats, coercion and economic or educational deprivation whether occurring in public or private life.
In a poverty- riddled country like Sierra Leone, women and girls suffer from the worse forms of gender violence. They are still in bondage and shackles, being objects of male domination and maltreatment. They bear the brunt of sexual exploitation, rape and sexual penetration. Our courts are currently awash with startling cases bordering on rape and sexual penetration perpetrated against especially innocent teenage girls and women.
The most frustrating thing is that even when such cases are brought before the court the vast majority of them do not end up in any good footing and justice in some instances is never meted out to them as they do deserve.
Statistics, over time, have revealed that the number of gender Based Violence is fife in the provinces where access to justice is hard to come by. In those places women are deprived economically by their so-called husbands who out of sexual proclivity have other intimate partners they tend to care for paying less attention to taking care of responsibilities.
The wives are left alone to do all the domestic chores, sell under the hot burning sun and forced to take part in sexual activities against their wishes. The spiral effects are deepening the poverty rate and impinging negatively on the well-being of the children.
What became staggering and disturbing was that even though President Julius Maada Bio declared rape as a national emergency sometime ago, however, the number of reported cases kept increasing.
This ugly scenario called for sterner measures to be put in place to deal with perpetrators, some of whom have the effrontery to even tamper with kids as young as five or eight years of age. And what was so disturbing is that some of the perpetrators are family members of the victims.
The ramifications of Gender-Based Violence are very severe on the victims ranging from unwanted pregnancy, dropping out of school, stigmatization, feeling guilty, withdrawal and other post traumatic experiences.
What again is discernible is that though women in this country have been calling for a 30% space for participation in State decision-making activities, however, there is still much to be desired. Political intimidation has sometimes scare women away from taking part in politics.
Rights-Based groups and women groups have been rigorously campaigning for the enactment of both a gender Equality and Women’s empowerment Policy.
The first Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment (GEWE) Policy was drafted in 2014, but was not presented to Cabinet before the exit of the previous APC led Government. With the entrance of the current SLPP led administration, emerging, national, regional and global issues and concerns, among others, necessitated a review of the policy before it can be presented to Parliament.
However, the pressure for such to materialize keeps mounting but there were all indications that it will finally come to pass.
For Sierra Leone’s strive for sustainable peace to be achieved, women have to be active and effective players in all spheres and their economic empowerment must go together with the country’s economic growth and development.
This is why the Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs (MSWGCA) and partners have seen it necessary to develop the GEWE Policy as a lawful reference point for addressing gender inequalities by all stakeholders at national and community levels and family units throughout the country.
The policy seeks to empower women to make choices at all sectors of the development paradigm and calls for equal access for women and men to opportunities across all areas of the economy. Furthermore, it clarifies the roles and responsibilities of the institutions that comprise the Gender Management Structure.
It also ensures that gender perspective is considered in national development plans, sectoral policies and strategies supported by monitoring and evaluation indicators that are designed to benchmark the performance of stakeholders on gender equality and equity. In addition, the policy emphasises the need for gender responsive budgeting in the public and in private sectors.
The GEWE Policy calls on the President of Sierra Leone to take full leadership for gender equality and women’s empowerment by outlining key steps that can be taken at the highest level of government to ensure that the fundamental principles of gender equality and women’s empowerment cascade down to all facets of society right through to the local communities.
The GEWE policy is designed to follow a multi-sectoral approach in implementation to ensure gender equality and women’s empowerment.
It is incumbent on the Government, since it is a signatory to various instruments geared towards dealing with the hydra, to ensure that our womenfolk have respite from Gender Based Violence.
It is welcome news that on the 19th September 2019 the Sexual Offences Act was passed in Parliament to become law. The Sexual Offences Act of 2012 provides for the increase of the maximum penalty for rape and sexual penetration of a child from fifteen years to life imprisonment; and make provision for the introduction of the offence of aggravated sexual assaults.
Gender Based Violence must be uprooted in this country. It is understandable that it cannot be totally eliminated but it could be minimized and the time is now as our women and girls continue to suffer in silence.
The campaign to disseminate different instruments on women’s peace and security; capture and showcase women’s contribution to governance and peace building efforts was implemented by the Media Reform Coordinating Group (MRCG) and its constituents members WIMSAL (Women in the Media Sierra Leone) and IRN (Independent Radio Network) with support from UNDP (United Nations Development Programme).