DOMESTIC VIOLENCE: A THREAT TO WOMEN’S SAFETY IN SIERRA LEONE

By Allieu S. Tunkara – The Watchpen
Sierra Leone Police Crime Statistics Report 2019 has indicated that over 2,200 cases of domestic violence have been recorded for the current year.
Assistant Inspector-General of Police in charge of Gender Affairs, Hospitality and Protocol, Mustapha Kamara, revealed the statistics via Sierra Leone Broadcasting Corporation’s ‘Morning Coffee’ Programme.
However, the statistics is an official figure that captures only matters of domestic violence that are reported to the police.
Those treated under the alternative dispute resolution model by the Family Support Units (FSU) countrywide, are ruled out as well as those that go unreported.
The Research and Planning Unit in the Corporate Affairs Department of SLP handles such responsibility.
The article explores several instances that lend credence to the threats of domestic violence as women continue to suffer in society and render them unsafe.
Mariama Sesay, a resident of Calaba Town, east of Freetown and a single mother of three children, is steadily recovering from the pains of a swollen eye.
She currently responds to medical treatment in a private health centre in her community.
She has been advised on medical grounds not to venture into a kitchen to prevent smoke worsening her health condition.
From her appearance, one would attest that she is in great pain and the pain has cost her over Le 200, 000.00 to get back her health, but that would not come immediately. She must submit to the passage of time.
Mariama’s swollen eye is a direct consequence of physical assault she suffered in the hands of her landlord.
She told Nightwatch that she had stayed in the landlord’s house for over a year without proper facilities.
“The house does not have a kitchen and I therefore cook in the veranda,” she explained.
Cooking in the veranda does not seem to go down well with the landlord for a long time.
He vented out such grievance when he engaged a victim in a quarrel leading to the assault.
No sense of remorse was shown by the perpetrator for his brutality on the victim.
To add insults to injury, the landlord further threatened subsequent physical assaults if victim did not quit his house.
The threats of violence plunged the victim in an unsafe situation and sought solace at Calaba Town Police Station where the matter is currently being investigated.
However, the victim is worried over the snail-pace investigation carried out by the police.
“I reported the matter few days ago but the suspect is yet to be arrested,” she complained.
Nonetheless, Mariama Sesay is exercising patience and restraint. She has been assured by the police that the suspect would be brought to justice. Owing to such assurance, she was quite confident that it would happen.
Mariama epitomizes dozens of women suffering domestic violence in the hands of men.
Quite recently, a lady, Mary Kamanda surfaced at Bo East Police Station with faeces all over her body.
The act was done to her by her husband who she had gone to report.
The onlookers at the police station were taken aback by what they saw.
She was issued with a police medical form for examination at the Bo Government Hospital.
The police, shocked by victim’s terrible condition, went into action to get suspect apprehended prior to the endorsement of the police medical form by the medical doctor.
Currently, several reports of domestic violence are rife at various FSUs across the country.
Men would not hesitate to physically assault women owing to their vulnerability.
Societal structures placed women at a disadvantage. They are not economically empowered to take up home responsibilities thus making men, most times, sole bread winners in most homes although current trends indicate something quite contrary.
Women are now the front runners and bread winners in most homes in the country especially single mothers or widows.
The obsession to safeguard the relationship and homes also make women put up with various sorts of abuses perpetrated on them by men.
It is axiomatic that women are the hardest-hit when relationships collapse as they are confronted with several challenges especially child up-bringing.
In the rural areas, precisely in remote communities, women continue to endure domestic violence in silence.
Traditions and customs have become prohibitive factors restraining women reporting their husbands who assault them.
In most communities in Sierra Leone, it is a taboo for a wife to report her husband at a police station.
Men, most times, are swift to divorce their wives for merely reporting them at police stations and specially detained in police cells to help the police in their investigations.
In a small town in Valunia chiefdom in Bo district, Alhassan Sesay divorced his wife who reported him to the Family Support Unit at Bo Police Station for domestic violence.
The assault was an aggravated one that compelled the police to apply the law.
‘I will not have a wife in my house who reports me to the police after every conflict at home,” Sesay vowed.
The gender principle that preaches parity between men and women is yet to be deeply ingrained into Sierra Leone culture especially in remote communities.
The principle is still viewed by many as a novelty and thus an evolving one in contemporary Sierra Leone.
Men still perceive women as inferior beings and the perception has been translated into a licence to maltreat same in the most degrading style, sometimes with impunity.
Media Matters for Women-Sierra Leone (MMW-SL) is a local non-governmental organization that seeks to empower rural women residing in last-mile areas through information dissemination and awareness raising programmes.
The organization which has been in operation for almost six years provides information on various social issues including health, economic empowerment, political participation, violence against women and girls among others.
The organization is operating in three different regions in Sierra Leone viz: Kenema in the east, Makeni in the north and Waterloo in the Western Area Rural where it hopes to make impressive inroads in the overall women’s empowerment.
The organization currently implements a project on sexual reproductive health rights in all three regions across the country.
Ndaemoh Mansaray is in charge of the project in the Western Area Rural district.
She told this medium that the project has a one-year time frame and hopes to generate consciousness on issues surrounding reproductive health.
“The organization is acting as a referral pathway for women who are victims of the topics discussed in the podcast especially violence against women,” she explained.
Seminars, symposia and workshops have been held to transform men from the use of brute force towards women to that of decency.
Radio jingles and discussions have also added weight to such messages, but violence against women still spirals.
At a quarterly meeting at FSU headquarters in Freetown, Sierra Leone Police Training Advisor at the International Military Advisory Training Team, Sally Taylor, explained that it is difficult to combat domestic violence in Sierra Leone owing to the dependency status of women.
“In Britain, a victim of domestic violence is catered for by the state while the husband faces the law,” Taylor explained. “Sierra Leone is a different case,” she stressed.
Sierra Leone is a signatory to treaties, conventions, and declarations that are protective of women.
Notable among those conventions is the Convention on the Elimination of All forms Discrimination Against Women.
It is a zero-tolerance strategy document on various types of violence against women.
The document has been ratified and domesticated in accordance with legally accepted procedures in the country.
The passage of the Domestic Violence Act No. 2 of 2007, one of the three gender laws, stands as a glowing testimony.
It was hoped that the law would emancipate women from the bane of male violence including physical, economic, psychological or emotional and other subtler forms of violence, but it is still a far cry.
As women continuously stay on the receiving end of men’s brutality, the state must explore several strategies to ensure safe environment for women.
The safe environment means one where women will showcase their full potentials and harness for nation building.

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