Stories and podcasts WBW Stories More Than Violence: Gendered Oppression in Sierra Leone By Augustine D Kamanda It disgusting when I realize how prevalent gender-based violence is amongst men in Sierra Leone, my home country. I refuse to stay quiet about this sick epidemic facing women and girls across the nation, though I have a feeling it will continue to expand into other countries, which will in turn lead to a global epidemic of violence. Governments in other countries have implemented numerous strategies and put policies in place to work towards eradicating gender-based violence in their society. Not withstanding, local and international NGOs have had a significant role in ending violence against females also, yet there is still much to be done. I have visited several communities across my home country and have witnessed women and girls not being listened to in their decision-making - even being deprived of their human rights. Examples include being excluded from decision-making, their choice of who to marry, education, policy-making, community engagement, their relationship to and with traditional societies, and so on. All of these examples have contributed, or are the cause of, serious problems for women and girls in this part of the world. Women and girls are being molested by the opposite sex and raped which, trauma and violation aside, also risks resulting in unwanted pregnancy and sexually-transmitted diseases. In some homes, married men routinely beat their wives so badly that medical intervention is needed, but not granted. Gender-based violence in Sierra Leone is an epidemic that spreads and festers behind closed doors. Women and girls are not respected or valued as men are, and so the police do not adequately monitor situations or respond when help is needed. Corruption in the judicial system is similarly rife; if those responsible for justice are being influenced with money, they will act to protect women seeking recourse from violent partners. In combating this problem, the government of Sierra Leone needs to do its due diligence on all governance system, thereby wedding out corrupt leaders in the justice sector and creating resources and avenues for both the community to correctly identify and support women suffering from abuse, and lead on educational programs to change cultural attitudes – to persuade women to leave abusive partners, and to improve attitudes amongst men towards women. In creating change, men need to be involved in advocacy campaigns against gender-based violence, training on how to recognize and stop aggressive or violence impulses, attend workshops, and also be given responsibility for ways in which to reduce stress in their homes so that they can live a life that is free of violence towards the opposite sex. We must reconsider what it means when we talk about women being oppressed. Sadly, there are many mechanisms of female oppression that can exist beyond the sphere of physical abuse, as is the common image we think of when we discuss gender-based violence. Economic exploitation and limitation of educational opportunity are similarly weaponized ways to keep women from embracing their full potential, and there is a dark logic to them. Economically, women and girls are not as empowered as male citizens are in order to support themselves, because when a woman is financially independent, she is less inclined to rely on a man. Accordingly, girls and women are given limited exposure to opportunities, both professional and personal. According to many of my female friends who sell food and some other items at the market place in Freetown, Sierra Leone’s capital city, are requesting the aid or support from the Government inline with financial or skill-based training to become self reliant. Likewise, education allows women to have greater independence, which is why girls must be encouraged to seek education. Girls have the same rights as boys to education and all of the benefits that result from it, but they are less likely to capitalize upon them. In every academic institution today in Sierra Leone, the enrolment for boys is much higher than girls. For me, it a great pity that girls are be less involved in academic pursuits, as this makes them less inclined to be represented in key positions in the public and private sector. To achieve genuine representation of all people in decision-making spaces, we must encourage more women and girls to learn, and ensure that we encourage the females in our own lives to embrace this right. Three weeks back, I visited a community in the Northern part of my country, where I engaged community members who had spent the last year advocating for girls to be sent to school – not just to girls, but to their families, given that the majority of the decision-making power about whether a girl will receive an education is held by their parents. I came to the conclusion that such advocacy work lead to productive results, as there was a considerable improvement in the enrolment of girls this academic year as a result of the campaign. Change may be coming, but it is coming far too slowly. Men who benefit from the oppression of women see no reason to change, but if they did, the amount of progress we achieve would be astronomical. If we, as men, do not act against the degradation, exploitation, and violation of women, we are complicit. Men look on while other men abuse or control women and say nothing are as bad as those who commit the act of violence, and must take great responsibility for their crimes. I consider this my life’s work, and I will never rest if I cannot significantly reduce – and ideally, put an end - gender-based violence and so many of the other barriers that prevent the development of women and girls in my community and the country at large. We are all created equally and we should enjoy equal opportunities, regardless our gender. But first, men need to recognize a need for change. So I’m starting with me. Let’s get to work. Learn more about the author here.