Sierra Leone: Violence against Women and Girls is Pervasive in S/Leone

By Stephen V. Lansana

The Deputy Minister of Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs (MSWGCA), Rugiatu Neneh Turay said women and girls’ rights are seriously violated through rape, sexual slavery, forced marriage and other harmful traditional practices in the country.

She made this statement during the lunching of the 16 days of activism against gender based violence, which started Friday November 25 with the theme: “Orange the world, raise money to end violence against women and girls.”

She said women in Sierra Leone are still lamenting that violence against women continues to be a grave problem even after the enactment of some of the toughest laws against gender based violence in West Africa.

Senior Gender Advisor in the Embassy of Ireland, Nafisatu Jalloh said violence against women and girls is pervasive in Sierra Leone, with 45.5 percent of women aged 15–19 having experienced physical violence.

“Deeply rooted structural violence and inequalities pose the greatest challenge in the country,” she said, adding that over 73 percent of women feel that their husbands are justified in beating them for at least one reason.

Nafisatu Jalloh said women have even suggested that domestic violence can be an indication of a husband’s love for his wife. “Mush of this violence women experience begins when they are girls, and it often occurs within a broader social-cultural environment where women and girls are undervalued and faced consistent threats or acts of sexual violence and coercion, exploitation and abuse which are clear violence of their human rights,” she said.

She added that women and girls who survived violence in Sierra Leone faced limited access to appropriate health services and support, adding that the health services are often inaccessible, unaffordable, unfriendly, and under-resourced.

She pointed out that only few women talk about domestic violence with friends and family. She said without community support, the majority of women never come into contact with the formal justice system. She noted that those who do express deep frustration that the courts and the police do not meet their needs for justice, for protection and assistance. “Worse, reporting sometimes does nothing but anger an abusive spouse and reinforce perceptions held by survivors that they have no recourse,” she stated.

She said the Rainbo Centers which are located in Kenema, Freetown and Kono are the only centers that provide comprehensive free medical and psychosocial services to survivors of rape, sexual and domestic violence. She explained that during the centers’ 12 years of operation, they have supported over 16,000 women and girls that survive sexual and domestic violence.

She added that about 14,616 women and girls who survived sexual and domestic violence received support from the Rainbo Centers between 2009 and 2015. She added that of this figure 92 percent were rape and sexual assault survivors, 93 percent were girls aged 17 years and below, and 24 percent were girls under 11 years of age. She stated that the number of women and girls seeking services at the Rainbo Centers increased by 19 percent during the Ebola outbreak between June and December 2014.

She said that the Family Support Unit of the Sierra Leone Police faced logistical constraints in prosecuting sexual and gender based violence cases. “Delays in handling cases, distance to courts, coupled with frequent adjournment of cases due to the limited number of magistrates lead families to settle cases out of court.” She said. She pointed out that all of these issues contribute to the high impunity for gender based violence cases.

She said the government has shown increased commitment to gender based violence by putting laws and policies that protect women and girls from violence and abuse. “Sierra Leone has ratified a number of human rights treaties, but implementation of these laws and polices remains a huge challenge,” she emphasized.