Something has to change

Something has to change in 2018. Something has to change, the gross injustice is no longer humorous or one for the ‘bear, how 4 do’ books. Sierra Leoneans deserve better and if the senseless deaths that have occurred this September 16th due to the heavy rains and loss of houses doesn’t further shock people into demanding change, I do not know what else will.

Before I fell into a deep gutter this mid-day, gulping brown germ infested gutter water, in the morning I accidentally splashed neatly dressed kids (about 7-9 years old). They screamed, one cried, and the group of them all cursed me out. I asked God for protection and guidance, fully aware that no one should begin their day with curses hanging over their head.

On my way to the clinic I stopped to grab coffee and the waitress at the café started laughing, explaining that her entire house had been washed away by the rains. She couldn’t stop laughing. Wilkinson Road, the bougie commercial area, is flooded, rubble scattered across the road. Behind the fancy wealth-signifying buildings and shops are slum communities where about four children have already died.

The roads are horribly made, lots of things don’t work, and there is absolutely no reparation offered to those who lose their lives, livelihood and health every day in this country because our social and political systems are weak with no real modes of accountability. .

Something has to change – beyond the self-glorifying messages that get shoved down our throats everyday by the ‘elite’ – something has to change. The worse part was seeing a minister’s big Prado drive past people drenched in water, crying, or stumbling on the roads and seeing the minister and his passenger laugh – yes laugh – at the scene.

Something has to change … this is not the Sierra Leone Sierra Leoneans deserve.

 

(Photo Credit: sierraloaded.com)

In Sierra Leone, OUTRAGE FOR HANNAH!

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Hannah was raped. It does not end there. Hannah was disembodied; skull fractured, glue found in her eyes, broken bones in multiple areas of her body, her spinal cord – shattered. When Hannah was found, only a pink brassier covered the top part of her body. Her legs were sprawled apart, the only cover came from the beach’s sand and seaweed. Hanna was raped and her murder, an inhumane act of violence.

Hundreds of women and men took to the streets on Thursday August 20th in a march organized by PowerWomen 232, a network for professional Sierra Leonean women. PowerWomen led the way for solidarity, chanting “Justice for Hannah, Justice for Women”. The outrage sourced from the predisposition that Hannah was raped (before autopsy results were released) and then murdered when images of Hannah’s deceased body were proliferated across local social media platforms. Those images forced us all to stop, question, mourn and be reminded that horrific acts of sexual violence very much thrive in our small nation’s shores.

Sierra Leoneans from all levels, high political personalities, leaders of women’s groups, activists, entrepreneurs, and students; the UN body, expatriates, and men marched wearing black, symbolic of solidarity at a time when being passive is no longer an option. Many who marched that day were not expecting this depth of brutality that Hannah’s young body had endured into her death.

Hannah’s death pierces through a plethora of Sierra Leone’s social and political issues currently circuiting in the country. Her death screams over denial about her violent murder, screams over blame (that it is because she was a sex worker that she got raped), and screams over the thick silence that has clothed action when it comes to enforcing punitive action against perpetuators of sexual violence.

Hannah’s death reminds us all that women’s bodies in Sierra Leone are under heavy siege. That Sierra Leone’s highly patriarchal society still subjugates with structural discrimination in practice, custom, and law, with a plethora of women still facing suppression in education, employment and politics. Sexual violence has always been rampant in Sierra Leone – the rhetoric that Ebola has induced a spike in sexual violence undermines the reality that little has been done to improve social and economic options for women.

Hannah was raped, maimed and murdered. Let that resonate with us all. This is a stark reminder that urgent work must be done to continue to speak up against sexual violence; that laws must no longer lie dormant but must be activated with stringent punitive actions against all perpetrators. More women who have experienced sexual violence must speak up, if enough of us are talking about this, sharing our stories – policy makers, communities, our women and men, the world will LISTEN.

Hannah’s death must not go in vain – we must channel our outrage into positive change. We have been reminded that the bodies, and psyches and spirits of Sierra Leonean women are not safe because Hannah was not only raped, she was brutally murdered and left exposed. We cannot turn away, we must act NOW.

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(Photo Credit: Fatou Wurie)

Kadi Sesay, a Sierra Leonean feminist leader and builder of democracy

All eyes are on Sierra Leone and its cliffhanger elections tomorrow. It actually is a crucial election, with a great deal at stake (even if The New York Times has thus far not mentioned a word). And one group that is precariously positioned in this election is women.

Out of 538 candidates for Parliament, only 38 are women. Of 1,283 candidates for local council seats, a mere 337 are women. Many women activists, such as Barbara Bangura, the director of the women’s organisation Grassroots Empowerment for Self Reliance, lay much of the blame on current women parliamentarians who failed to get the Parliament to pass, or even seriously consider, the Gender Equality Bill. The Gender Equality Bill would have mandated that 30% of the legislators be women.

Why did the Bill fail? Some in the Women’s Parliamentary Caucus claim there was confusion. Others say intimidation of women candidates and office holders is all too common.

Whatever the reason, there will be a sharp decline in the number of women in Parliament and in local offices. For that reason alone, women are already organizing to re-table it post election.

While the numbers are fairly dismal, there’s one number that shows some promise: 2. And that number 2 has a woman’s name: Kadi Sesay. The opposition party, Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP), is running Kadi Sesay as vice-president. If Julius Maada Bio becomes President, Sierra Leone will have a woman Vice-President for the first time.

Sesay has been a first woman on a number of occasions, from academic head of department to National Commission head to Ministerial positions. She’s a groundbreaker Sierra Leonean feminist leader and feminist builder of real democracy who, for decades and at every step, has worked closely with women’s groups, women’s movements, women.

While the election of one woman to a high office won’t resolve the extraordinarily high maternal mortality rate in Sierra Leone, nor the crisis of women’s high indebtedness, nor the challenges women farmers face either in the rural zones or in the cities, nor the inequities women face in the courts,  it’s still something.

According to the BBC tomorrow’s election is all about becoming an adult: “Sierra Leone may be about to prove it has grown up.”

The possible accession of Kadi Sesay to the Vice-Presidency of Sierra Leone is not a passage into adulthood. Sierra Leone is not a child. Tell the BBC. Tell them, as well, about Kadi Sesay, an African feminist leader.

 

(Photo Credit: SierraExpressMedia.com

Widows demand justice

Tomorrow, June 23, is International Widows Day. Around the world, widows are denied justice. They are dropped from social networks, they are forgotten, they are denied access to property, they are circled in by various `cultural’ and legal restrictions. Around the world. This is not about `the developing world’. It’s global.

Rio + 20 ends today. Many who care about the environment, in whatever way, are frustrated by the lack of meaningful action. Women and women’s advocates, in particular, object to the absolute failure of the conference to understand as fundamental the link between family planning and environmental justice. Family planning covers the entire arc of family history, from before cradle to the grave … or at least it should. Did you hear any major discussion in Rio about widows’ rights? Me neither. What about at the G20 meeting in Mexico City this past week? No? Neither did I. How will widows figure into the family planning summit conference in London, in July? Wait and see.

Widows around the world are of all ages, and they share more than grief. They share reduced access to means of survival and well being. Some are workplace widows, such as Shelly Anderson, Rhonda Burkeen, Sheila Clark, Nancy Curtis, Michelle Jones, Courtney Kemp, Tracy Kleppinger, Sherri Revette, Natalie Roshto, whose respective partners were killed in the Deepwater Horizon rig explosion, Have they received proper compensation? No. Do the widows of mining disasters receive proper compensation for their loss? Seldom.

Nanda Bhandare’s husband was a cotton farmer. Debts rose, Indian small farmers faced multinational agro-corporations and a hostile global market, bankruptcy and starvation loomed larger and larger. One day, Bhandare’s husband protested with his life. He drank enough pesticide to kill himself. He died, but his debts live on. Years later, his widow has taken the children out of school to work the fields to pay those debts. Each day, they move closer to death by starvation. Where is Nanda Bhandare in the global conference circuitry? Nowhere.

Around the world, widows are initially acknowledged and supported, especially after a catastrophe such as the recent airline crash in Nigeria. What happens next? Too often they are abandoned. Individuals, communities, agencies move on, feeling they have done their due diligence. They haven’t. We haven’t..

Around the world widows are organizing. In the Cross River State, in Nigeria, widows and their supporters are talking about what is needed: enhanced livelihood options through access to real education and equitable finance; increased cooperation among widows and widows-focused organisations through the formation of widows cooperatives and networks; increased public awareness on widowhood issues through information, education and communication; and, finally, enabling a policy environment for widows through an advocacy campaign.

In Nigeria, as almost everywhere, the condition of widows is lamentable, but it is not inevitable.

In Sierra Leone, for example, more than 20% of households are headed by women. Over a third of the women who are heads of households are widows. Women, like Gladys Brima, the founder of Women’s Partnership for Justice and Peace, are advocating, organizing, pushing. Women like Sia Bona are staking their lives on organizing. When Bona’s husband died, her in laws swooped in and pushed her and her mother off the farm, a farm that had been Bona’s father’s farm. The law says one thing, customary and traditional law says another. Women, and especially rural women, don’t live in `the State’. They live where they live, locally. Federal or national laws without built in requirements for local transformation are, at best, empty symbols. More often than not, they are tools of oppression, exclusion, and betrayal. Bona, Brima and other women in Sierra Leone are organizing at all levels to change that situation … now.

A version of that exclusion takes place almost everywhere. Widows must have more than a seat at the conference table. They must be prioritized, not just recognized. Thus far, they are not. Instead, widows haunt the discussion of global and of local justice. And they are organizing.

 

(Photo Credit: PTI)

ACAS Bulletin 83: Sexual and gender based violence in Africa

Sexual and gender based violence in Africa

A New ACAS Bulletin edited by Daniel Moshenberg

This Bulletin began in response to news reports of “corrective” and “curative” gang rapes of lesbians in South Africa. These were then followed by news reports of a study in South Africa that found that one in four men in South Africa had committed rape, many of them more than once. We wanted to bring together concerned Africa scholars and committed African activists and practitioners, to help contextualize these reports. We wanted to address the ongoing situation of sexual and gender based violence on the continent, the media coverage of sexual and gender based violence in Africa, and possibilities for responses, however partial, that might offer alternatives to the discourse of the repeated profession of shock or the endless, and endlessly reiterated, cycle of lamentation. To that end, we have brought together writers of prose fiction (Megan Voysey-Braig), lawyer-advocates (Salma Maoulidi, Ann Njogu), poets (Chinwe Azubuike), trauma scholars (Sariane Leigh), human righs and women’s rights advocates (Michelle McHardy), gender and transgender advocates (Liesl Theron), activist researchers (Sasha Gear). These categories are fluid, since every writer here is involved in various activist projects, advocates in many ways. The writers do not pretend to `cover Africa’, and neither does the collection of their writings. The writings treat South Africa, Nigeria, Zanzibar, Kenya, Sierra Leone. They are meant to continue certain conversations, to initiate others.

Read more here : http://concernedafricascholars.org/analysis/acas-bulletin-83/

Download the Entire pdf (3.4mb) here: http://concernedafricascholars.org/docs/Bulletin83.pdf

Table of Contents

Sexual and gender based violence: everyday, everywhere, and yet… | pdf
Daniel Moshenberg

Untitled | pdf
Megan Voysey-Braig

Zanzibar GBV advocacy: important lessons for future legal reform strategies | pdf
Salma Maoulidi

Searching for the will to conscientiously prosecute sexual crimes in Zanzibar | pdf
Salma Maoulidi

Poet’s Note | pdf
Onwu Di
Of Widowhood
Chinwe Azubuike

Post conflict recovery in Sierra Leone: the spiritual self and the transformational state | pdf
Sariane Leigh

To be a woman in Kenya: a look at sexual and gender-based violence | pdf
Ann Njogu and Michelle McHardy

Trans-hate at the core of gender based violence? | pdf
Liesl Theron

Manhood, violence and coercive sexualities in men’s prisons: dynamics and consequences behind bars and beyond | pdf
Sasha Gear

Supplemental Material

Profile: Dr Denis Mukwge
Lelly Morris / The Lancet

Interview: Sexual terrorism in eastern DRC
Amy Goodman interveiws Christine Shuler Deschryver

Report: Soldiers who rape, commanders who condone
Human Rights Watch


The Association of Concerned African Scholars (ACAS) is a network of academics, analysts and activists. ACAS is engaged in critical research and analysis of Africa and U.S. government policy; developing communication and action networks; and mobilizing concerned communities on critical, current issues related to Africa. ACAS is committed to interrogating the methods and theoretical approaches that shape the study of Africa.