Earlier this year Sierra Leoneans felt a measure of justice at the conviction of former Liberian President Charles Taylor for his role in the civil war. Many would say that Sierra Leone is now finally at peace, but the women we support don’t feel they are living in peace. One woman told us:
‘…after the war the instability and lack of safety has minimised a bit – but things have not returned to how they were before.’
In Sierra Leone the violence and inequality women suffered before the war has only deepened after the conflict; nearly all women have suffered sexual or domestic violence in their lifetime.
Womankind’s joint research with ActionAid shows clearly that peace is about more than just the laying down of guns. Lasting peace must involve everyone so that lives can return to normal and communities can be healed. We have found that it’s women who are building peace from the ground up with very little support or recognition. Where they get the support they need our research shows that communities recover more fairly and quickly.
‘I wanted to carry on studying but when I had my baby girl I left school and started working with my husband Philip. We ran a cocoa farm and a pineapple farm. But when my husband died his brother took control of our home and business and I ended up on the streets with my two children.
‘I went to the village chief but my brother-in-law wouldn’t talk to him. I didn’t know where else to turn. A friend introduced me to a WAVES community worker in a nearby village who said I had the right to keep my property and offered to help. WAVES mediated between me and my brother-in-law and they explained what the law says about property inheritance. He realised I could take him to court and that he wouldn’t win and agreed to return my home and business.
‘We are now home and my children are back at school. I am running the business and able to provide for them. I am proud that my story has motivated other women to come forward. This is peace for me.’
How WAVES helps
WAVES works in rural areas with the most marginalised women. They know that change takes time and so they settle a community worker into a village to establish trust, understand the issues, and to leave a legacy. By raising awareness about violence against women in time everyone understands that violence undermines peace and is not only harmful but wrong.
Women facing domestic violence can approach the community worker to find somewhere safe to stay, get counselling and medical help. They are also offered free legal advice if they want to take their case to court so the violence stops for good.
What can you do?
So far we’ve seen 40% less violence against women in communities where the workers have been active. With your support we want to expand this work and reach even more women.
£45 can pay for a community worker to train three local volunteers to give women legal advice and to mediate disputes.
Will you consider making a donation today to bring true peace for women in Sierra Leone?
We are also calling on the UK government to turn their good words into action and support women’s organisations who are building peace by providing dedicated funding.
Please add your voice to ours, and write to your MP.