October 8, 2019
By Frederick V. Kanneh
Equality Now, an international human rights organization that works to protect and promote the rights of women and girls around the world by combining grassroots activism with national, regional international legal advocacy, has held a two-day training for journalists from different media houses on the theme “capacity building of sierra Leone- based journalists on gender sensitive reporting”.
The training took place at the New Brookfields Hotel, Freetown, from 3rd to 4th October 2019.
Highlighting the objectives of the training, Media Lead for the organisation, Sarah Wambui, stated that Equality Now wishes to increase Journalists’ understanding of sexual and gender-based violence as a human rights violation, adding that the organization wishes to enhance journalists’ understanding of the implication of the discriminatory ban of pregnant from school and to highlight why it amounted to the double violation of the girls ‘rights.
She stated that the training aimed at broadening journalists’ horizons of national, regional and international laws that Sierra Leone is bounded by, and which are designed to protect women and girls from sexual violence.
“Our focus is to share experiences, challenges, and best practice that can be employed when reporting on sexual and gender based violence as a human rights issue. And we also want to increase journalists’ understanding of state responsibilities, with regards to ending sexual violence in Sierra Leone so as to drive state accountability,” she said.
Giving the overview of the key women and girls’ rights issues in sierra Leone, Executive Director of Women Against Violence and Exploitation (WAVE), Hannah Yambasu, said the overview of women and girls’ rights issues in sierra Leone has three stages of evolution, thus stating that the stages which range from before during and after the 11-year war, showed the eras when women and girls suffered sexual based violence the most in Sierra Leone.
She narrated that before the war, women and girls’ rights issues in Sierra Leone were always down-played because of the cultural mentalities and the unavailability of national laws that dealt with same, adding that during the war, women and girls right issues were literarily thrown to the dogs because every actor in the war found solace in abusing either women or girls.
“During the war, sexual based violence became the order of the day for everyone including the soldiers, rebels, the ECOMOC soldiers and even the civilians. It almost became a common practice because there was nowhere to report issues of such. Even most of the aid workers were in the habit of exchanging food for sex,” she narrated.
She continued that even when the war came to an end in 2002, they were using the Sierra Leone Police as their first point of call for issues of sexual based violence, but that the police were not prepared for the fight, noting that there was no law that empowered the Police to take any legal action against perpetrators of sexual based violence.
She said it took the frantic efforts of different activists before the Family Support Unit was established as a division in the Police Unit, stating that the said unit was also constrained with trained personnel for handling cases of Sexual Based Violence.
“There were actually no speculated charges and no guideline for the FSU in dealing with GBV and we started requesting for manual guide that would enhance the unit’s easy operation. Thank God for Action Aid, who supported the production of the operation manual,” she said.
She noted that it took them years knocking the doors of government and law officials for the enactment of laws that would protect women and girls’ rights in sierra Leone.
She said the three gender laws were enacted by Parliament when they gave ultimatum to late former President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah that, if laws were not enacted to protect women and girls’ rights, no woman in Sierra Leone would vote in the 2007 elections.
She concluded that even though the road to justice for women and girls’ rights in Sierra Leone had been bumpy over the years, but that they would get there with time, adding that the training was timely and very vital to Sierra Leone journalists.
In her presentation, the Progam Officer, End Sex Violence, Naitore Nyamu, focused her message mainly on the significance of Sierra Leone Journalists to understanding the National, Regional and International Laws, which sierra Leone is party to in the fight against Sexual Based Violence.
She highlighted numbers of laws, ranging from the Universal Declaration of human Rights (UDHR) to the recently amended Sexual Offence Act in Sierra Leone, which she said were meant to fight women and girls’ rights, thus encouraging journalists to be au-fait with the said laws and to be using them in their reportage.
“For instance, journalist would only be able to conveniently cover a story of minor if they know that the laws says all person below the age of eighteen are minor, and it is only through the law that journalist would know that there is no justification for rape, or person under the age of cannot consent to sex,” she explained.
The two days training, which attracted many facilitators including media expects, and civil society activists from Sierra Leone and Kenya ended with optimism from the lead media from Equality Now, that all what the journalist learnt would be replicated in their news coverage.