UNDP Sierra Leone engaged over 200 traditional leaders, women’s groups and community actors in commemorating the 16 days of Activism in Gendema and Mongo Bendugu on between the 1st and 5th of December 2020. These communities are ground border areas faced with high prevalence of teenage pregnancy and Female Genital Mutilation-Sierra Leone 2017 Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey has informed. The community dialogue and reflections in Gendema, Pujehun District and in Mongo Falaba District challenged norms, attitudes and practices that contributes to the violation of the rights of women and girls in the communities and informed participants of the various GBV reporting channels.
At Gendema, young men and women, town chiefs, and other community stakeholders including the media reflected on the effect of teenage pregnancy, sexual exploitation and abuse on girls and the community at large. This they believed have increased the burden of care on their parents, especially their mothers who are fending for the Families. On the key factors driving Gender Based Violence in the community and committed to taking action to end GBV, participants were engaged in community dialogue sessions chiefly to mobilize community action in ending violence against women and girls at community level; influence positive change in attitudes and socio-cultural behaviors of the public and consequently mitigate violence against women and women’s inferior status within the marriage and household; and ultimately, at ground level, is to prevent gender-based violence from happening in the first place by challenging cultural and social norms, through mobilization campaigns and a zero-tolerance policy.
In Sierra Leone, traditional leaders, Paramount and lesser chiefs hold considerable power in the countryside and as figures of authority they are, our 16 Days of Activism community engagements activities in Mongor Bendu, Falaba District have not left them behind either. Therefore, seeking their cooperation as much as possible in Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV) activities would accelerate national progress, create a bigger space to advocate for people’s rights and generally, promote government accountability for violence against women and girls.
Since 2017, the UNiTE Campaign of the United Nations has been using 16 Days of Activism as a popular campaign period to recalibrate efforts against GBV; forming a core principle of the transformative Agenda 2030 for sustainable development, consisted with gender equality, goal 5 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Whilst several efforts have been made to address GBV, several factors continue to hamper the realization of the rights of women and girls in Sierra Leone. Reports from a national NGO (Center for Accountability and Rule of Law-Sierra Leone) indicates gross underfunding of the Family Support Unit (FSU), charged with the responsibility of investigating and prosecuting GBV cases, and the Ministry of Gender and Children’s Affairs. As a result, the Ministry is resourced with limited number of social workers in the country and access to medical examination and treatment poses to be a challenge. Therefore, this year’s theme: Orange the World: Fund, Respond, Prevent, Collect!" resonates well with the issues faced by women and girls in Sierra Leone who bear the highest burden of GBV.
For Sierra Leone, the commemoration of this year’s 16 Days of Activism will be an opportunity for advocates, civil society groups, influencers and the UN System to spark a renewed sense of urgency and bolster national action to end violence against women and girls by calling on all to: fund essential services on gender-based violence and women’s organizations who are at the forefront; to respond to the needs of survivors, including during the global pandemic; to prevent gender-based violence from happening in the first place by challenging cultural and social norms, using mobilization campaigns and a zero-tolerance policy; and to collect data to improve services, programmes and policies.
The Sixteen Days of Activism against Gender Based Violence is an internationally recognized campaign held every year between 25 November and 10 December. The campaign commences with the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women (25th November) and ends with International Human Rights Day (10th December).
Using folk media during 16 Days of Activism to influence GBV in rural Sierra Leone
In rural Sierra Leone, literacy rate is very low (2018 World Bank Data is showing that only about 32% of people ages 15 and above are literate) to the disadvantage of rural population. Against this background, we considered in earnest, effective yet local community engagements and communications strategies that are trusted and closer to the hearts of rural communities.
Recognizing also culture as an asset to development especially when some community actions, practices and perceptions are clouded with ashes of their traditions, and that mass media (newspaper, TV, and radio) engagements could not replace the power of folk media, this year’s 16 Days of Activism engagements used local theatre to disseminate GBV messages and to trigger culturally rooted discussions during the community dialogues sessions at Jendema and Mongor Bendugu. In Mongor, UNDP supported civil society female facilitator mobilized hundreds of women and youth nearby a locally designed community hut with puppet-characters mimicking stories of GBV and the role of Paramount and lesser chiefs for everyone to see.
Alas!, these engagements are renewing commitments among women and youth groups; chiefs have resolved to resist community forces that would compromise GBV cases, market women would coalesce their voices to support victims of GBV, young girls want to stay in school and eventually improve their lives and lives of their parents; district councils would become more responsive to GBV issues in their districts.
“The 16 Days of Activism provides us with unique opportunities to direct all efforts and use whatever tool and or strategy that is effective enough to reach out the most difficult to reach communities and to give us intended results on GBV during or even after the 16 Days of Activism but also to inform planning and programming ”-say Kadie Bachalle Taylor, UNDP Gender Specialist.