Leave violence behind and take women forward
Save the girl, beat the crime
By Celia Thompson
“Some of the incidents that the Family Support Unit in Sierra Leone had investigated in the past documented women who had been beaten to death. Some of these women had been suffering from domestic violence over the years before the fatality of these incidents because of ‘the dependency syndrome,’ wherein some women depend on men economically so no matter the abuse, they suffer in silence. There is also the cultural aspect wherein women, whether educated or not, are expected to stay with a man in order to gain respect in the society,” Superintendent Mira Koroma, Head Change Management, Corporate Services, of the Sierra Leone Police told Celia Thompson, in a chat on the progress of Sierra Leone to end violence against women and girls, as women defenders engage in 16 days of activism for same.
Sierra Leonean women and girls, like others around the world, continue to battle with varying issues of violence, whether in public or private, ranging from rape, sexual assault, sexual harassment to child labor and child trafficking to name a few. A 2016 Comparative Regional Analysis of Sexual Based Violence (SGBV) cases reported and investigated by the Family Support Unit of the Police, indicated over 3000 cases attributed to Sexual Offences, about 6900 of Domestic Offences cases and 606 cases of Offences against children.
According to Mira, who also doubles as a women’s activist, although the beautiful resource-rich West African country has been active in setting up institutions and enacting laws to prevent this menace, there are still many lose knots to tie.
“Sierra Leone has made tremendous strides toward creating a safer space for women and girls by enacting the three Gender Acts of 2007, inclusive: the Domestic Violence Act, the Registration of Customary Marriage and Divorce Act and the Devolution of Estates Act. Also, there is the Sexual Offences Act of 2012. There are also establishments, both public and private that were established to address issues of women and children, such as The Family Support Unit and the Legal Aid for Women Yearning for Empowerment”
“But there is a very big challenge of safe homes for victims of Domestic Violence and other abuses. When women are beaten or a child abused, most times, especially for the women, they have to return to the Perpetrator’s home. The law grants that a victim can ask for the suspect to be removed from the home but most times, it is not done, either because of ignorance or difficulty in accessing the required services,” she added.
Globally, recent statistics show that more than 700 million women alive today were married as children, 200 million women and girls have undergone female genital mutilation. At least one out of every three women in the world has been beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused in her lifetime with the abuser usually someone known to her.
The issues of gender-based violence knows no religion, age, nationality, culture, or socio-economic class. In Ghana, statistics from the National Domestic Violence Unit (DOVVSU) of the Police Service shows that from January to March 2016, 79 men were arrested for defilement while no woman was arrested for same, and 187 females defiled against 11 males within the same period.
In Nigeria, where the insurgency of Boko Haram continues in the East, the plight of women and girls are far worse. Reports on the Humanitarian Reliefweb states that the terrorist group had conscripted young girls as suicide bombers. It is reported that 145 girls have been used as suicide bombers. Some women and girls who walk outside of protected security zones, including IDP camps, in search of firewood have been known to be targeted by Boko Haram insurgents, with some of them either being killed, abducted or reported missing.
In 2017, as women and girls call on the world to protect them and create peaceful and safer space for them to live, school and work, activists are promoting the theme: ‘Leave no one behind: end Violence Against Women and Girls’
Arguably, while some jurisdictions lack the legal spine to prosecute perpetrators of Sexual and Gender Based Violence, others serve lenient punishment or gives them a free ride to walk away when there is insufficient evidence, much to the displeasure of their suffering victims.
“The increase in abuses against women and girls is due, to my view, to the fact that Perpetrators have not been receiving the utmost penalty for wrongs done so most of the time; it does not serve as deterrence to others. I strongly believe that if there is a stronger punishment for Perpetrators including naming and shaming, people would think twice before abusing women and girls,” Mira explained.
“I think this time around, men and boys must be called into the conversation. Any program developed must include them. Also, I strongly believe that all service providers must be brought together on a training or seminar to address persistent challenges or bottlenecks in women and girls accessing justice.”
In leaving no one behind, governments would also need to provide better services for victims of SGBV. Mira has this suggestion:
“There is also the challenge of services scattered about and since most victims are economically challenged, going from one service to another is difficult for them. Having a One Stop Shop or Center would have been a unique way of giving proper services to women and girls but unfortunately, this vision remains a dream. A center with free hot line and vehicles to pick up victims would have made life much easier for women and girls.”