Gender-Based Violence
For the past 3 yrs, I’ve been working
with the International Rescue
Committee managing gender-based
violence programs (GBV) to help
eliminate violence against women.  
The projects were developed initially
as reproductive health initiatives to
assist women who had been sexually
assaulted during conflict.  However,
over the past few years the program
has progressed to fight against
injustice women face throughout a
woman’s life span (conflict or non-
conflict related).  

It’s an unfortunate fact that in Sierra
Leone women were targeted by
fighting factions as a terror method to
intimidate the population.   Even
more unfortunate, though, is that the
violence used against women was not
a rare event caused by the war but
were grotesque events which had its
bearings in cultural attitudes about
women’s role in society.  Therefore,
in order to set up programs that
addressed the violence perpetrated
against women in the war, we needed
to also explore ways to challenge the
community’s attitudes toward women
that made such acts thinkable and
tolerable.  

We set up multi faceted projects that
looked at both the response to and
prevention of assault on women and
children.   We also made sure that we
incorporated all members of the
community that had a stake in women’
s welfare.  (Interesting! ……. that
means that we needed to address
everyone).  This is not an isolated
problem that has little ramifications on
people who were not assaulted.  
Everybody has a mother, daughter,
sister who could be potentially harmed
by negative attitudes towards women
held by the society.  

Our work in response focused on
working closely with the police,
health workers, community leaders,
and local and international agencies to
ensure they saw violence against
women as a priority issue that can
potentially affect everyone not just
something that happens to individual
women.  We provided tools and
training to ensure that women who
were abused and came forward were
treated with respect and not blamed
for the assault that happened to
them.   Not necessarily an easy thing
to do when the predominant thinking
by men and women (including the
educated professionals) was: “it is
very hard for men to hold back their
sexual urges” or “hitting your wife is a
sign of love, especially if the wife is
disobedient” or “girls these days walk
around in shorts skirts, tight pants, and
tight fitting shirts – What do you
expect?”.  A lot of our job was to
dispel some of these myths.    

Besides challenging myths we faced
additional constraints.  We had to
teach all the service providers what is
gender, the theories behind violence,
and guiding principles when dealing
with a survivor of violence.  We had
to deal with competing interests –
individual healing vs. society
protection.  For example the social
workers (us) believe confidentiality is
the cornerstone to their work.  It
gives those who were abused a sense
of trust which helps begin the healing
process.  It also allows more people to
come forward.  The police and
protection oriented people may find
confidentiality useful at times but a
nuisance if the survivor doesn’t want
to prosecute the matter.  They can
easily drop confidentiality at the
expense of the survivor if it means
getting the perpetrator.    Beyond the
philosophical and attitude hurdles, the
state infrastructure was completely
destroyed by the war and poverty.  
Therefore there were not necessarily
the resources (functioning courts,
trained staff, hygienic hospital, drugs,
etc.) to meet the demand for services
or respond effectively.

Unfortunately we also had to deal with
corruption.  One of the largest
problems we had were doctors who
charged survivors of rape an extra fee
for what they perceived as additional
work when dealing with these cases, i.
e. testifying in court.  The charges
were exorbitant (sometimes Le 50,000
to be examined when most patients
paid Le 1000).  This obviously
deterred most women from receiving
the appropriate medical care needed.  
This had negative effect on the other
support groups who depended on the
hospital for referrals or in the case of
the police as a place to receive
substantiated evidence.  As major
barrier to the process, our program
took this problem head on.  With the
support of other agencies, good
statistics, and mobilization of key
players we slowly improved the
situation.  Now 2 district hospitals no
longer request additional payment for
rape cases, setting an example for the
rest of the country.  
Protocol Workshop for Local Authorities, Bo
Serving her Husband, Kono