Sierra Leone: Women still struggling for a safe and enabling environment

By Isaac Unisa Kamara.

The Director of Women Against Violence and Exploitation in Society, Sierra Leone (WAVES-SL), Hannah Yambasu, said on women’s day that women in Sierra Leone are still struggling to be empowered and realize equality.

Speaking during the International Women’s Day to commemorate the event at an interdenominational church gathering, Yambasu said, “We’re not celebrating Women’s Day but commemorating it because, we’re still struggling for a safe and enabling environment that favours our equal participation in leadership and our freedom from SGBV”.

“There still remains a need for the elimination of all forms of violence against women and their protection from the traditionally disenfranchised female population; particularly in rural settings which is key to societal development.”

She said the struggle for Gender Equity and Women’s Empowerment should not only be a concept but to be applied. Hence, the reason why her organization together with like-minded partners and the Ministry of Gender and Children’s Affairs are restless until they see a safe and enabling environment for women and girls.

The Director of Rehabilitation and Development Agency Sierra Leone (RADA/SL), Dr. Augustine G. Robinson, reechoed the need for women to be empowered.

“This is a season women should be in leadership,” he noted.

He also referenced Biblical and practical examples of women who were given leadership positions, noting that it is the perfect will of God for women to take leadership positions not only in church but also in every facet of the society.

Devastatingly pervasive: 1 in 3 women globally experience violence

Violence against women remains devastatingly pervasive and starts alarmingly young, shows new data from WHO and partners. Across their lifetime, 1 in 3 women, around 736 million, are subjected to physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner or sexual violence from a non-partner – a number that has remained largely unchanged over the past decade.

This violence starts early: 1 in 4 young women (aged 15-24 years) who have been in a relationship will have already experienced violence by an intimate partner by the time they reach their mid-twenties.

“Violence against women is endemic in every country and culture, causing harm to millions of women and their families, and has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General. “But unlike COVID-19, violence against women cannot be stopped with a vaccine. We can only fight it with deep-rooted and sustained efforts – by governments, communities and individuals – to change harmful attitudes, improve access to opportunities and services for women and girls, and foster healthy and mutually respectful relationships.”

Intimate partner violence is by far the most prevalent form of violence against women globally (affecting around 641 million).  However, 6% of women globally report being sexually assaulted by someone other than their husband or partner. Given the high levels of stigma and under-reporting of sexual abuse, the true figure is likely to be significantly higher.

This report presents data from the largest ever study of the prevalence of violence against women, conducted by WHO on behalf of a special working group of the United Nations. Based on data from 2000 to 2018, it updates previous estimates released in 2013.

While the numbers reveal already alarmingly high rates of violence against women and girls, they do not reflect the ongoing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

WHO and partners warn that the COVID-19 pandemic has further increased women’s exposure to violence, as a result of measures such as lockdowns and disruptions to vital support services.

“It’s deeply disturbing that this pervasive violence by men against women not only persists unchanged, but is at its worst for young women aged 15-24 who may also be young mothers.  And that was the situation before the pandemic stay-at home orders. We know that the multiple impacts of COVID-19 have triggered a “shadow pandemic” of increased reported violence of all kinds against women and girls,” said UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka. “Every government should be taking strong, proactive steps to address this, and involving women in doing so”, she added.

Though many countries have seen increased reporting of intimate partner violence to helplines, police, health workers, teachers, and other service providers during lockdowns, the full impact of the pandemic on prevalence will only be established as surveys are resumed, the report notes.

Violence disproportionately affects women living in low- and lower-middle-income countries.  An estimated 37% of women living in the poorest countries have experienced physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence in their life, with some of these countries having a prevalence as high as 1 in 2.   

The regions of Oceania, Southern Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa have the highest prevalence rates of intimate partner violence among women aged 15-49, ranging from 33% – 51%.  The lowest rates are found in Europe (16–23%), Central Asia (18%), Eastern Asia (20%) and South-Eastern Asia (21%).

Younger women are at highest risk for recent violence. Among those who have been in a relationship, the highest rates (16%) of intimate partner violence in the past 12 months occurred among young women aged between 15 and 24.

“To address violence against women, there’s an urgent need to reduce stigma around this issue, train health professionals to interview survivors with compassion, and dismantle the foundations of gender inequality,” said Dr Claudia Garcia-Moreno of WHO. “Interventions with adolescents and young people to foster gender equality and gender-equitable attitudes are also vital.”

Where Brexit will leave the UK’s human rights diplomacy

Sean Molloy, Connal Mallory, New Castle University

Boris Johnson, as foreign secretary, attends the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva in 2018. Magali Girardin/EPA

The UK has played a leading role within the UN’s Human Rights Council (HRC) since its creation in 2006 as the main international body responsible for the promotion and protection of human rights around the world. But when the UK seeks re-election in October 2020 – a requirement for membership of the council – it’s likely to have departed from the European Union and its powers of human rights diplomacy will be on an uncertain new footing.

In recent years, Britain’s human rights diplomacy at the HRC has operated in two channels. On the one hand, the UK has been able to influence human rights directly by its own efforts, acting in its capacity as a sovereign state and through British diplomats. On the other hand, the UK has exercised influence indirectly through its membership of the EU collective process. In theory, this permits the UK to prioritise certain rights on its own, while also influencing a much broader range of human rights through the EU bloc. But by leaving the EU, it will be left to go solo.

This raises questions about which rights the UK will prioritise and which rights will be sidelined diplomatically without the ability to rely on the EU to push them.

Our recent research with our colleague Rhona Smith examined the possible consequences of Brexit on the UK’s human rights diplomacy. We looked at the UK’s engagement as an EU member state between 2006 and 2018, by examining participation in what are called “interactive dialogues”, where UN-appointed experts are questioned in relation to a designated theme or country.

We found that the UK is less active and considerably more selective than the EU in its participation in these dialogues.

UK priorities

We found that in some cases, the UK and the EU are very similar in their involvement in interactive dialogues. For instance, both the UK and the EU are regular participants in discussions with special mandate holders for such countries as the Central Africa Republic, Eritrea and Iran.

When looking at themes, the UK tends to participate in dialogues on civil and political rights for certain, specified groups. So of the 12 dialogues on violence against women across the 38 session of the HRC that we studied, the UK participated in nine, and five out of a total of seven dialogues on discrimination against women. The UK also has a high participation rate of over 80% with dialogues relating to terrorism and freedom of expression and association, among others.


But there are some countries and thematic human rights issues on which the UK’s participation is either non-existent or falls far below participation rates of the EU. We found four countries – the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Cuba, the Occupied Palestinian Territories and Burundi – where British participation in country dialogues was minimal.

There are also a large number of themes with which the UK rarely engages, including dialogues with groups such as indigenous peoples, the rights of migrants, the sale and exploitation of children and people of African descent.

As the graph below shows, the UK rarely participates in discussions on social, economic and cultural rights, such as the right to health, education and housing. This can be contrasted with the EU where participation rates rarely fell below 90% across the 38 sessions of the council.

An opportunity

Should the UK continue to focus on a narrow subset of rights and countries after Brexit, it’s unlikely to be able to contribute to the shape and development of aspects of the international human rights project outside of these areas. Not only will this diminish the UK’s place as a leading promoter and advocate on human rights, it also offers less liberal and progressive countries the opportunity to push back.

One way the UK could prevent a backslide in its status as a human rights leader would be to continue to align with the EU. Despite the fallout from the EU referendum, the UK and EU still agree more than they disagree in respect to international human rights law.

Another route would be for the UK to use Brexit as an opportunity to expand its human rights diplomacy beyond its current list of priorities, which include modern slavery, freedom or religion or belief and freedom of expression. It could also treat Brexit as a chance to invest more in human rights diplomacy. A conscious political decision to be more proactive across all engagement at the UN would not only ensure Britain’s ongoing influence as a human rights champion, but also retain its stature as a global power while its reputation transitions as it leaves the EU.

If attention isn’t paid to both the UK’s role in global diplomacy and human rights issues after Brexit, the consequences for both could be profound.

Credit: The Conversation

Gambia Brings Genocide Case Against Myanmar

The Gambia’s case against Myanmar at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for violating the Genocide Convention, filed on November 11, 2019, will bring the first judicial scrutiny of Myanmar’s campaign of murder, rape, arson, and other atrocities against Rohingya Muslims, 10 nongovernmental organizations said.

States that are party to the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide agreed that genocide “whether committed in time of peace or in time of war, is a crime under international law which they undertake to prevent and to punish” and, by extension, have an obligation not to commit it. The convention permits member states to bring a dispute before the ICJ alleging another state’s breach of the convention, and states can seek provisional measures to stop continuing violations. Myanmar became a party to the Genocide Convention in 1956.

“The Gambia’s legal action triggers a judicial process before the world’s highest court that could determine that Myanmar’s atrocities against the Rohingya violate the Genocide Convention,” said Param-Preet Singh, associate international justice director at Human Rights Watch.  “The court’s prompt adoption of provisional measures could help stop the worst ongoing abuses against the Rohingya in Myanmar.”

The nongovernmental organizations supporting the initiative are No Peace Without Justice, the Association pour la Lutte Contre l’Impunité et pour la Justice Transitionnelle, the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, the Global Justice Center, Human Rights Watch, the International Bar Association Human Rights Institute, Parliamentarians for Global Action, and the Women’s Initiatives for Gender Justice.

In its first Genocide Convention case, the ICJ imposed provisional measures against Serbia in 1993 and eventually found that Serbia had violated its duty to prevent and punish genocide in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

CanadaBangladeshNigeriaTurkey, and France have asserted that Myanmar committed genocide against the Rohingya. The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) has encouraged its 57 members to bring Myanmar before the court. Malaysia’s prime minister has also alleged that Myanmar committed genocide against the Rohingya and called for efforts to bring Myanmar before the court.

“As a country recently emerging from decades of brutal dictatorship, The Gambia’s leadership on the Rohingya genocide is especially striking and welcome,” said Alison Smith, international justice director at No Peace Without Justice. “Other members of the Genocide Convention should follow The Gambia’s lead and lend their clear and unwavering support.”

In September 2019, the United Nations-backed Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar concluded that “Myanmar is failing in its obligation to prevent genocide, to investigate genocide and to enact effective legislation criminalizing and punishing genocide.” The fact-finding mission highlighted “the enormity and nature of the sexual violence perpetrated against women and girls” during Myanmar’s military campaign as one of seven indicators of the state’s intent to destroy the Rohingya people.

“The Gambia’s proceedings before the ICJ offer countless survivors of sexual violence and other victims some hope that Myanmar could legally be held to account for its ruthless campaign against the Rohingya,” said Melinda Reed, executive director at Women’s Initiatives for Gender Justice.

Sierra Leone: President Bio says gender-based violence is still a challenge

President Julius Maada Bio on Thursday said gender-based violence is still a challenge and called upon all Sierra Leoneans to work together to address the menace in the country.

Sierra Leone has an increasing rate of child marriage

While addressing Sierra Leone at the State Opening of Parliament the president noted that “the fight against the various forms of Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV) is still a challenge that requires all hands on deck with drastic actions in order to reverse the ugly trend.”

Sierra Leone enacted the Sexual Offenses Act on 28 August 2012. The act makes provision for various categories of sexual offences and covers persons with mental disabilities, children and married women.  It prohibits forced sex in marital relationships.  It protects children, especially the girl child, from abuse by teachers, religious and traditional leaders.  The law introduces stiff minimum sentences for offenders, raising minimum jail sentences from two years to between five and fifteen years.

The government has recently declared rape a national emergency and sexual penetration of minors punishable by life imprisonment.

The president noted that cases of sexual penetration and rape continue to pose serious threat to women and girls. He disclosed that reported sexual penetration cases increased from 2,549 in 2017 to 2,726 in 2018 and rape from 103 in 2017 to 205 in 2018, but said with the recent actions taken by his government, including the proclamation of a State of Emergency on rape, coupled with the cooperation of other stakeholders, he hope to reverse the trend.

The president said with ongoing collaboration among security and Intelligence agencies, and the community, there has been great improvement in the general security situation throughout the country.

Section 20 of the Constitution of Sierra Leone adopted in 1991, and amended in 2013, includes the following provisions: No person shall be subject to any form of torture or any punishment or other treatment which is inhuman or degrading.

Unfortunately, women and girls in Sierra Leone are seldom protected from abuse and violations.

According to UNWOMEN, Lifetime Physical and/or Sexual Intimate Partner Violence – 45 %, physical and/or Sexual Intimate Partner Violence in the last 12 months – 29 % , Child Marriage at 39 %, and Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting at 90 %..

BLACK TUESDAY! Asmaa James Foundation Calls for Black Tuesday in Support of Abused Girls

By Ahmed Sahid Nasralla (De Monk)

The Asmaa James Foundation is urging Sierra Leoneans from all walks of life to wear black on Tuesday,4th December, 2018 to collectively protest against the increase in incidents of rape and abuse against girls below 12 years of age in the small West African country.

ASMAA JAMES: “Wecan no longer watch in silence, it’s time to take action!”

This comes in the wake of an alleged rape through anal sex of a five-year-old girl by her 28-year-old male relative.

“This is getting out of control; it’s insane, horrible and sickening…We must do something about it and urgently too,” says Madam Asmaa James, Founder and President of the Foundation.

She continues: “If you are a frequent listener to our (Gud Morning Salone) program on Radio Democracy 98.1 FM you must have noticed that there’s a daily bulletin on alleged rape cases of minors by adult men allover the country. This is a worrying trend for the future of our women folk in particular and our country in general. We need to unite to put a stop to this now.”

The Foundation is pursuing the case of the five-year-old with the help of L.A.W.Y.E.R.S (Legal Access through Women Yearning for Equality Rights and Social Justice), an organization of female legal practitioners who use the law to protect and promote the rights of women and girls in Sierra Leone by providing free legal advice and court representation on a range of matters including matrimonial disputes,maintenance, sexual and domestic violence.

“If offenses of such nature are committed with impunity, then we have failed our children and generations unborn. We want justice under the law for this little girl and every other victim of sexual penetration. We at L.A.W.Y.E.R.S will not relent,we shall pursue the course of justice for this child,” says Mrs. Fatmata Sorie, President of L.A.W.Y.E.R.S.

Madam James visited the girl at the hospital and found her on her bed with a catheter (medical tube) to help her get comfort. She learnt that the girl couldn’t walk because her spine has been damaged allegedly due to the forceful penetration of her anal. Doctors say she has little chance of ever walking again.

“I was dumbfounded,devastated and enraged for the whole day,” recounts Madam James. “How could a man have anal sex with a girl of five? was the question I kept asking myself.This is sad, selfish, barbaric and inhuman and requires all of us – men and women, young and old- to speak up against this dastardly act. The future of this poor girl is ruined for life. As I watched her struggle on her bed with her innocent looks, I cannot fathom that we still have men like this parading our communities in this 21st Century.”

The parents of the five-year-old girl are more devastated and they couldn’t even muster the courage to speak about the incident.

According to the hospital management, this is the fourth case of alleged rape involving girls below 10 years that they have to deal with in the last 10 months or so. 

“Sexual violence against minors is a national problem, a problem that is bigger than what we think, and needs urgent attention. We need collective and urgent action now. It is in this spirit that we are calling on everybody to wear black on Tuesday, to register a resounding protest and to raise awareness against rape and violence against women, especially minors,” appealed Madam James.

In 2007 Sierra Leone enacted 3 landmark gender laws and Child Rights Act, and a subsequent Sexual Offences Act in 2012 to protect and promote the rights, welfare and dignity of the country’s women and girls, who constitute slightly more than half of the national population.

As the international campaign of 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence to challenge violence against women and girls gets underway, Madam James notes that such horrible acts against girls must also be looked into through the lenses of gross human rights abuses.

Meanwhile, the Asmaa James Foundation, under the hashtag #16DaysofActivism#ProtectourGirlsnow, is appealing to Sierra Leoneans and well-meaning organisations for their moral,financial and social support in its campaign for urgent action against abuse of girls.

“We can no longer watch in silence, it’s time to take action,” Madam James challenges her compatriots. 

Merck Foundation marks International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women

Merck Foundation (, the philanthropic arm of Merck Germany, on Monday marks the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, and also marks the start of the “16 Days of Activism” that precedes Human Rights Day on December 10 each year.

Dr. Rasha Kelej, CEO of Merck Foundation with Jackline, the victim of infertility stigma and her baby, during her visit to her house

Through their “Merck more than a Mother” campaign, Merck Foundation wishes to empower infertile women against all sorts of discrimination, abuse and psychological & physical violence due to their inability to bear children.

“Together with our partners and our ambassadors, we can create a culture shift to sensitize all communities to respect women whether they are mothers or not. Women are more than Mothers, this is what we stand for. No for violence against women and #NoForInfertilityStigma. Merck Foundation marks the International Day for Elimination of Domestic Violence against Women today and every day as part of our daily activities to empower infertile women through access to information, health, change of mindset and economic empowerment so that they can be independent and stronger” emphasizes Dr. Rasha Kelej, CEO of Merck Foundation and President of Merck more than a Mother.

Watch the story of Merck Foundation CEO visit to Jackline Mwende, the victim of infertility Stigma. She was abused and accused of being unable to bear a child. Although she was not the one with the infertility problem – it was her husband. Yet he refused to get treated and abused her. He chopped off both her hands trying to kill her. Merck Foundation empowered and helped her to start her new life, new home and a new supermarket to lead a good life. She became the “Merck more than a Mother” heroine.