Gender based violence in Sierra Leone – ministry of social welfare stands firm

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 27 July 2016

Africa progress panel1

Sierra Leone has been classed as one of the top 50 most peaceful nations in the world, in the latest Global Peace Index report, with DenmarkAustriaPortugal, and New Zealand topping the list, whilst SyriaAfghanistanSouth SudanCentral African Republic and Iraq trail at the bottom for obvious reasons – war and civil conflict.

But with the continuing, deepening culture of violence against women, many in Sierra Leone would be perplexed by the report, ranking Sierra Leone as the 5th most peaceful in Africa and 43rd globally out of 162 countries.

60% of the population of Sierra Leone are women. Yet, women suffer disproportionately from gender based violence, because of societal values and a general acceptance that violence against women and children is fair game.

The report, by the Institute for Economics and Peace think-tank, warned that the global economic impact of violence totalled $13.6 trillion in 2016.

“The 2016 Global Peace Index (GPI) shows the world became less peaceful in the last year, reinforcing the underlying trend of declining peace over the last decade. Results also show a growing global inequality in peace, with the most peaceful countries continuing to improve while the least peaceful are falling into greater violence and conflict,” according to the report.

The report found that between 2015 and 2016, while 81 countries’ peace improved, some 79 others deteriorated. These outweighed the gains, meaning that global peace declined at a faster rate than in the previous year.

The Middle East and Africa was the least peaceful region in the world in last year’s report, and dropped even further in 2016, suffering as regional conflicts intensified.

SL rebel war victims4Whilst Sierra Leoneans may generally be enjoying political stability and peace, as successive governments continue to build on the country’s post-war democratic foundation, the same cannot be said for a high percentage of women in the country that are routinely experiencing gender based violence on a daily basis. (Photo: Sierra Leone’s war victim remembered).

Take the recent case of a woman, who had to flee for her life in the Bonthe district of Sierra Leone named madam S.E. to protect her real name, from a group of men. What was her crime?

According to the culprits – men claiming to be members of a traditional secret society, ‘she interfered with their secrets’.

According to the ministry of social welfare the woman is now safe and sound.

Sierra Leone may be ranked as the 5th most politically peaceful country in Africa according to the Global Peace Index, but there is little doubt its one of the most violent and lawless in Africa today.

The task facing the ministry of social welfare, children, gender and religious affairs is to work with the criminal justice system to bring an end to such inhumane and disgraceful violence or fear of violence in Sierra Leone.

Too many people in Sierra Leone are afraid for their personal safety and security, and their general sense of well-being is very poor.

SL rebel war victims3While there are adequate laws in the country guaranteeing the rights of women and the girl child in Sierra Leone, the administration of justice by the police and the protection of the vulnerable are weak.

This is what the ministry of social welfare said in its press statement “Condemning a Societal Violence against a Woman in Bonthe Municipality”:

Tuesday 26th July, 2016.

“The Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs is concerned about the recent societal violence suffered by a woman; Madam E. S (full name withheld) in Bonthe Municipality on 16th July, 2016 by some youths who claimed to be members of the Poro Society in Bonthe.

“The youths alleged that the woman interfered with what they described as ‟sacred” to men which should be unspoken of by female counterparts.

“Whilst the Ministry fully respects the culture and traditions of the aggrieved youths, we believe the youths should have channelled their complaints through an established legal system instead of taking the law into their own hands.

“Therefore, the Ministry views the action of these youths as undermining the Government’s Agenda for Prosperity which aims at empowering women and other marginalized groups.

“The ensuing violence also resulted in loss of lives of some youths as they clashed with security personnel. Such loss of lives is so needless and we extend sympathies to bereaved families and the injured.

“Meanwhile Government will like to assure that Madam E.S is currently safe and unharmed. Social Services Officers in Bonthe and our Southern Province Officers for Advancement of Women & Gender, are closely monitoring the situation.

“The Ministry wants to also use this opportunity to hereby express its appreciation to the Honourable Chief Justice for the ongoing deployment of Magistrates to all districts in Sierra Leone and we look forward to Bonthe getting its own Resident Magistrate in the shortest possible time.”

In a related though separate development, the ministry of social welfare says that it has concluded a four-day senior staff retreat, where discussions about how to improve the delivery of services to those most vulnerable in society was discussed.

The ministry said this about the retreat:

“With a strong commitment by its assembled staff to transform and improve on service delivery, the retreat had participants successfully making meaningful contributions in charting the way forward in the ministry.

“Long serving officials also confirmed that this was the very first time in over 25 years for the Ministry in charge of Social Welfare, to hold such a retreat of all its senior staff in the districts and regions.

“The 4-day retreat initially aimed at having Donor Partners and Implementing Agencies join the discussions on Day 4. However, the issues which emerged out of concerns from Provincial offices and staff stationed there, especially of the Case Management and Child Protection Information Management & Internet Systems, were so extensive and of such importance that they took up the entire 4 days.

“During frank and candid exchanges, every single one of the 13 Heads of Districts and all 4 Regional Directors, unanimously endorsed the overall assessment of the Child Protection Donor-funded Internet systems by the Ministry’s staff drawn from all over the country. The unanimous position is that the Child Protection Project has failed and needed comprehensive restructuring.

“Whilst another retreat which will include the full participation of Partners is now being planned, the outcome of this just-concluded retreat, including the way forward for the Ministry’s district and regional operations, will be communicated to all relevant higher authorities.”

When will the most vulnerable in Sierra Leone begin to enjoy their freedom from violence and marginalisation?

The brutal war in Sierra Leone had its roots in injustice, dis-empowerment, brutality and social marginalisation. Sierra Leone may be enjoying the peace today, but if all forms of violence are not curbed – especially gender-based violence and political violence, peace in Sierra Leone may be short lived, and its economic future and prosperity will continue to be uncertain.

Read the Global Peace Index Report here:

The Institute for Economics and Peace

3 Comments

  1. Abdul R. Kabia,

    I think this polarizing debate is about Poro or No-Poro secret society in Sierra Leone, which you failed to make mention of in your response. That is the main issue and crux of the matter here before us. There is just no way around it. You are either for Poro or against it.

    QUICK QUESTION

    Where are you on this social war front that has mesmerized or held us spellbound for many generations to date?

    Please let the people or public know. Amen.

  2. The Sierra Leone people should congratulate themselves for this accolade. It is the courage and resilient nature which make them deserve this merit – keeping the peace in the country after a bloody civil war, and despite being forced to live in extreme condition of poverty and the denial of the most basic services for a decent living, while politicians, government authorities and cohorts grow rich and richer day after day to the detriment of the masses.

    Sierra Leoneans had always been peaceful people who rejected conflict and social upheaval, and had always lived in peace. The immense majority of the people would testify that they had never heard the sound of gun shots in conflict scenario until the 1990s when the civil war spread across the country.

    We were a people who couldn’t even stand the sight of a gun; it sends us fleeing away in panic and nobody dare peep into a keyhole from indoors.

    Before the civil war there had only been two important situations of social instability in the country – the first in 1967 when Albert Margai SLPP government lost elections to the opposition party of Siaka Stevens APC and attempted to take victory from the APC.

    The then commander of the Armed Forces Brigadier Lansana held Siaka Stevens and the then Governor General, Lightfoot Boston under house arrest. This prompted a reaction by a group of Military officers, pro Siaka Stevens’s supporters to stage an immediate counter coup against Brigadier Lansana.

    The second coup d’état was in 1968 when the military head of state, Lieutenant Juxon Smith who came to power to lead the first military government of the country, a short lived government. He was overthrown by another group of pro Siaka Stevens’s military group and Siaka Stevens was immediately sworn in as the Prime Minister of Sierra Leone in the same year 1968.

    These were all minor coups because there was no bloodshed and happened within a short space of time, they met no resistance and no social upheaval occurred.

    It was Siaka Stevens’s greed for power and corrupt culture to enrich himself and his cohorts, mainly S. I. Koroma and Kamara Taylor and others who introduced violence and naked corruption into the politics and governance of this country.

    Under this awful APC government which leashed terror and the worst human rights record in the history of this country in time of peace, the Sierra Leone people remained calm and quiet in their suffering without going into civil conflict in the two decades of APC disastrous governments. The APC impoverished the nation and dragged it back to the Middle Ages. Only peaceful people can stand all of these.

    From this backdrop it is important for Sierra Leoneans to stand firm with determination to eradicate bad governance and organized corruption in government offices, of this government and successive governments to come.

    We shouldn’t relent to stand by and with unconditional support to those citizens who are determined to challenge the practice of corruption, graft and bad governance. The culture of tribalism and regional divide will only drag us further backwards.

    Congratulations to the Sierra Leone people for keeping the peace!

  3. There is nothing made mention of wicked and ungodly “secret society,” such as Poro, Wondei, Ggangani, Ojeh, Hunting, Freemasonry, Bondo, etc. in the Constitution of Sierra Leone. NOWHERE!

    OF COURSE, THERE IS NO SECRET SOCIETY OF ANY KIND AND ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD THAT IS MORE SACRED THAN THE CONSTITUTIONAL DOCUMENT OF A COUNTRY.

    Please be informed that traditional and cultural practices, including marriage, child naming ceremony, religious and social celebration, etc. are quite different from something done in “secrecy” with bloodshed and destruction of human life.

    As recent as this past Tuesday, July 26, 2016, I wrote the following- on Julius Bio for being a member of “Wondei Secret Society,” which in the Mende Language means eat your “own physical brother”-:

    “12. Unlike ‘Wondei’ Julius Bio, he Dr. Yumkella is NOT a member of any satanic secret society that physically
    chops off the heart of man as a cannibal of Sierra Leone.”

    For Your Information, the 1991 Sierra Leone’s Constitution (Act No. 6 of 1991) strongly defends the sanctity of human life, under Social Objectives, as follows:

    Social Objectives.

    8. (1) The Social Order of the State shall be founded on the ideals of Freedom, Equality and Justice.

    (2) In furtherance of the Social Order—

    a. every citizen shall have equality of rights, obligations, and opportunities before the law, and the State shall
    ensure that every citizen has an equal right and access to all opportunities and benefits based on merit;

    b. the State shall recognise, maintain and enhance the sanctity of the human person and human dignity; and

    c. the Government shall secure and maintain the independence, impartiality and integrity of courts of law and
    unfettered access thereto, and to this end shall ensure that the operation of the legal system promotes
    justice on the basis of equal opportunity, and that opportunities for securing justice are not denied any
    citizen by reason of economic or other disability.

    I might know Madam E.S. who is involved in this Poro witchcraft wahala in Bonthe District.

    Consequently, on her behalf and all the citizenry of Sierra Leone, I hereby ask the Members of Parliament (MPs) to legislate strongly against secret societies as follows:

    1. Ban or outlaw ALL secret societies, both for men and women, as illegal in the country.

    2. Prosecute and fine the culprits up to maximum Le 2 million, or do 3 years of imprisonment, or both.

    3. Dispose of and burn ALL fake masked devil attires and regalia.

    4. Proponents and supporters of secret societies should immediately desist from these ungodly practices or
    else face criminal charges and penalties as legally appropriate.

    5. The Sierra Leone Police (SLP) should be mandated to arrest any Gombu Moi, Sowei, Digba, etc. detain and
    charge to court for violating this Law.

    Yours Faithfully,

    A Concerned Citizen.

    “On March 5, 2016, I wrote the following about secret societies, including Poro and Bondo, that are threatening the very life and survival of Sierra Leone as a godly nation. Everything in the country is messed up.

    There is poor Leadership tainted with corruption everywhere in the Land. My heart yearns for one more spiritual revival in Sierra Leone.

    Today, I read this article from cocorioko.info on ‘Alleged Poro Society Reprisal Threats On Children Of Victim Of Bamoi Charade.’

    Please renounce and denounce your involvement and participation in these satanic secret societies. Distance yourself from all of them. For the judgment of God is about coming soon. Amen.”

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