GENDER BASED VIOLENCE IN SIERRA LEONE
Sierra Leone is a deeply gendered society, where the socio-cultural norms that govern attitudes, behaviours, practices and expectations results in gender inequality. Gender inequality coupled with staunchly held, restrictive gender norms manifest itself in high levels of gender-based violence (GBV), which due to the weakened social structures in Sierra Leone leave survivors vulnerable and unable to seek redress.
The socio-cultural norm of gender inequality means that gender-based violence, particularly affects women and girls – denying them the opportunity to fully and equally participate in the rebuilding of Sierra Leone and relegating them to a lower status then their men and boys. Simultaneously, men and boys are not only potential perpetrators of gender-based violence but are subjected to, and restricted by, the same socio-cultural gender norms.
Violence against women and girls in Sierra Leone is intentional and systemic. It is the physical, sexual, emotional and structural harm inflicted on a woman as a deliberate method for maintaining their subordinate status. Anyone in society can be affected, but the highest proportion of sexual gender based violence is experienced by women and girls in society. Rape is a violation of a person’s rights and dignity and is always wrong. After a person has been sexually assaulted, they need help and support. Visible violence (e.g. beating, rape) and the frequently dismissed emotional and psychological violence, is often facilitated by invisible violence (the threat of violence, economic dependence and at the root- a system of women’s oppressions). Structural violence which is often invisible and not considered violence is committed against women and girls due to been born into an unequal environment where women and girls are generally valued less that men and boys. It reveals itself when looking at the health, economic, educational and political status of women and girls in Sierra Leone: high maternal mortality rates, illiteracy, increased risk of HIV, poverty and limited political representation.
All of the above leaves women and girls exposed to high levels of sexual violence, domestic violence, transactional sex and sexual exploitation and abuse with little if any opportunity to seek justice.
GBV Related Terminologies and definitions commonly used
Abuse is any harmful or unlawful treatment or use, often to gain an unfair benefit of some kind.
Attitudes are individual views, opinions or feelings about something.
Beliefs are firmly held attitudes that are often regarding things like, religion, cultural practices and other major facets of a person’s life.
Child sexual abuse is any behaviour, with or without contact that imposes sexual behaviour on a child.
Domestic violence is any act or threatened act of violence by a spouse or partner. Domestic violence can include physical or sexual abuse; economic abuse; emotional, verbal or psychological abuse, including any conduct that makes another person feel constantly unhappy, humiliated, ridiculed, afraid or depressed or to feel inadequate or worthless; harassment, including sexual harassment and intimidation; or conduct that in any way harms or may harm another person, including any omission that results in harm and either endangers the safety, health or wellbeing of another person, undermines another person’s privacy, integrity or security or detracts or is likely to detract from another person’s dignity or worth as a human being.
Early marriage is when someone marries or is forced to marry under the age of 18. This is often forced by parents or other relatives.
Emotional abuse/violence is behaviour that seeks to control an individual by inflicting emotional harm, which can include threats, intimidation, humiliation, coercion, etc. and can often leads to or is incorporated with other forms of violence including domestic and sexual violence.
Exploitation is the act of taking advantage of something or someone, in particular the act of taking advantage, unjustly, over another person for your own benefit.
Female genital cutting is when healthy vaginal tissue is either nicked, excised and/or sewn in relation to secret society rite of passage.
Gender is the social construction of roles according to whether a person is male or female. Gender is pliable and varies across cultures, time and context. Gender is one of several defining socio-cultural characteristics, such as ethnicity, religion and age, which define a person’s experience and their opportunities.
Gender-based violence (GBV) is an umbrella term for any harmful act that is perpetrated against a person’s will, and that is based on socially ascribed (gender) differences between males and female. GBV in not synonymous for violence against women and girls even though it is widely recognized that GBV is normally perpetrated against women and girls by men and boys. This acknowledgment of men and boys as the predominant perpetrators of GBV does not exclude them as victims of GBV as well. Even though GBV, often get used interchangeable with violence against women, this is not the definition of the term. This fluidity of use however speaks to the subordinate role of women in society, which often leaves them as victims. There are many forms of GBV and most commonly, they are categorized to include: sexual violence, sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA), domestic violence, economic violence and emotional violence.
Human rights are universal guarantees protecting individuals and groups against actions that interfere with fundamental freedoms and human dignity.
Norms are the routine behaviours of individuals or groups of people within a society and this behaviours are what is used do define normal behaviour.
Oppression is unjust and cruel use of power and authority over individuals or groups.
Patriarchy is the male dominant social structure where women are subordinate.
Power is having of control, authority or influence.
Rape is forcing a person to have sexual penetration vaginally, anally or orally, against their will.
Sex is the biological difference between men and women.
Sexual harassment is perpetrating unwanted sexual advances or sexual attention.
Status is the social and economic standing that a person has in a community in relation to other people.