Violence against Women and Girls… UN Women urges religious, cultural leaders to champion fight

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Ella Syl-Macfoy reading the press statement

 By Alhaji Haruna Sani

The two-day Regional Consultation on the Role of Traditional and Faith Leaders in Ending Violence Against Women and Girls (EVAWG), hosted by UN Women Sierra Leone in collaboration with UN Women Nigeria and funded by the Ford Foundation, concluded yesterday.

The event aimed to empower religious and cultural leaders to play a pivotal role in combating gender-based violence.

UN Women urged Sierra Leonean religious and cultural leaders to promote equality, collaborate with stakeholders, lead by example, condemn violence, incorporate anti-violence messages in education, ensure safe spaces, and support efforts to challenge gender norms and empower women.

During the consultation, which took place at the Atlantic Hotel in Lumley, high-level personalities including the United Nations Resident Coordinator, government ministers, religious and traditional leaders, and civil society organizations came together to discuss strategies for ending violence against women and girls.

UN Women Sierra Leone in a press statement read by Ella Syl-Macfoy Program Specialist Ending Violence Against Women and Girls highlighted the critical role that religious and traditional leaders play in addressing VAWG.

She acknowledged Sierra Leone’s progress in legal and policy advancements, including various acts and initiatives aimed at eradicating violence against women and girls.

Despite these advancements, challenges persist, with significant percentages of women and girls experiencing physical and sexual violence, as well as harmful practices such as female genital mutilation (FGM) and violent discipline in households.

Key challenges identified include underreporting, weak legal enforcement, cultural norms, and limited access to services, especially in remote areas.

The Family Support Unit, One Stop Centres and Rainbo Centres are collaborating to provide medical treatment, counselling, legal and psychosocial support for survivors.

Despite this, challenges remain. 62% of women aged 15 to 49 in Sierra Leone report having experienced physical and sexual violence, 60% of ever-married women aged 15 to 49 have experienced spousal physical, sexual or emotional violence. 83% of women have undergone FGM and 86.5% of children aged 1 to 14 years, experience some form of violent discipline in their households.

Violence against women and girls, the statement emphasized, transcends age, ethnicity, and social background, pervading homes, businesses, workplaces, and communities.

Religious and traditional leaders were recognized as influential figures capable of effecting change within their communities. During the consultation, these leaders committed to using religious and cultural spaces for public education and awareness-raising on the human rights violations of VAWG.

They pledged to empower communities with knowledge to recognize signs of abuse, support survivors, and condemn violence against women and girls unequivocally.

Moreover, the consultation emphasized the need for religious and traditional leaders to provide safe spaces where survivors can come forward, receive support, and be assured of confidentiality.

It was agreed that community bye-laws for the prevention and response to VAWG would be established and enforced, with UN Women providing support through a monitoring and evaluation framework.

Moving forward, the consultation will support the development of a Regional Accountability Framework through the African Union Gender Scorecard, focusing on indicators related to VAWG/SGBV/HP/SRHR, as mandated by African Union instruments.

In conclusion, the press release emphasized the need for collective action to rewrite the narrative surrounding violence against women and girls, replacing fear with hope, silence with dignity, and violence with love.

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