The Presidential task force on Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV) coordinated by the Office of the First Lady gave their report to the President on Tuesday 17th November at State House.
The Multi-sectoral task force was set up by the President to find workable solutions to SGBV (Sexual and Gender Based Violence). The different arms of government, non-governmental agencies and donors working together, they report to the President who is the chairperson of the task-force monthly, where they must state progress made, and issues that needs to be resolved. They are tasked with formulating a unified strategy.
In the last session with the President in October, several issues were raised, including the requirement for a forensic lab. His Excellency said the team should have a proposal that will include a working budget for the initiatives the task force Presented. President Bio also spoke of the importance of working together.
Since the creation of the Task force, there has been several positive wins, including the creation of a Model Court for rape proceedings, this has led to a dramatic increase in convictions. This move was greatly complimented by Medical practitioners receiving training on legal based treatment, reporting of SGBV cases and how to give evidence in court. The Family Support Unit and the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) work on plugging administrative loop holes, and creating a more effective prosecuting process, that will lead to more convictions. Several MOU’s formalising the partnership between different agencies have been signed and operationalised.
The task force is not to criminalise citizens but the main aim of the task force is to have a scientific study of SGBV in a post conflict society, and get effective initiatives that will greatly reduce the occurrence of SGBV.
The Presentation of current data on SGBV was done by the Hon. Minister of Basic and Secondary Education Dr. David Moinina Sengeh. It indicated what was already public knowledge , that their has been an increase in reporting of SGBV cases. The total number being 7,414. Average age of perpetrator is 24.3 and the average age of survivor (Rape victim) being 14.9.
At the second session of the task force in October, among other things, it was agreed a working budget for the creation of a forensic lab in Sierra Leone must be ready. The Forensic Lab Power point presentation by Haja Dr Isata Wurie covered every area from technical training, equipment required, infrastructure to upscaling in the future. The budget she presented was under $4 Million dollars.
First Lady in an impassioned statement said SGBV truncates development, our women should be empowered to be equal partners for sustainable development. the task force goes beyond just talking about the problem but also proposing and implementing solutions. Presenting our case to the development partners was important because Sierra Leone cannot do it alone. However issues we can deal with, we should do something about. She mentioned the conflicting marriage laws, that leaves a grey area when dealing with child marriage, presently children under 18 can get married with consent from a guardian. This she argues should be resolved.
First Lady said prevention of SGBV forms the core of her advocacy, her goal is to change the mindset of the people. Unfortunately, criminality is a social reality, this is where we have to protect the survivors and effectively punish the perpetrators. She said the Chief Justice came up with a budget to roll out the model court for rape proceedings to every region, presently the special court is only in Freetown. She is ready to support work of the Chief Justice on the physical infrastructure. Replicating the success of the model courts across the country is important.
The Family Support Unit require funding, and transportation logistics will be improved by the provision of practical motor bikes in the provinces. Safe homes for victims and witnesses is important. She praised the work of the Don Bosco Famble, the Rainbo initiative among others for the centres they run and the new ones created by Rainbow in Makeni and Bo. She used the opportunity to talk about the ultramodern safe home to be constructed at the 34 Military hospital by the Rainbo initiative, they have start-up-funding of $120,000 from Irish aid for the project.
President Dr Julius Maada Bio, was impressed by the coalition. Progress is inevitable when we work together as a team. The magnitude of the problem of SGBV requires a unified focused group. He said it was a moral obligation as a government, and more importantly as parents to provide a safe environment for our children to achieve their full potential. President acknowledged the task force has grown from strength to strength with more strategic partners. This is a good indication that the goals set by the task force will be achieved. The presentation and justification for a forensic lab in Sierra Leone gives a clear pathway on how to proceed. The next move will be ascertain how many labs will be required and fundraising drive to achieve our goals.
President Bio made it clear that he is ready to fight SGBV, knowing full well it is a taboo subject and not politically “correct”. For sustainable development we have to protect and educate our girls. The culture of rape needs to be dealt with by changing the mindset of our people. To this end, President Bio said the task force should develop a full fledged preventive programme for SGBV. President Bio then asked the development partners present how they can help financially towards creating a Forensic lab in Sierra Leone and other areas of intervention concerning SGBV.
Among the development partners that voiced their support, Dr Kim Dickson form UNFPA said they will commit to $200,000 for training for the Forensic lab,they are working with the Ministry of Gender for the One-stop-centres and also supporting the Family Support Unit with 7 motor bikes in the provinces to ease transportation. Irish Aid was impressed with the task force and it’s achievement, they will look into more support, and the emphasis on prevention is welcome. The Foreign and Commonwealth office also agreed with the aim of the task force to concentrate more on prevention. The community based approach makes the people own the project and the multi-sectoral approach makes the strategy more efective. Save the Children and other development partners also reiterated that prevention is key.
Dr Babatunde Ahonsi, the United Nations Resident Coordinator in Sierra Leone, said he was impressed by the leadership provided and the President is very bold and proactive by being at the forefront of the fight against SGBV. He said the United Nations prioritise gender issues because it is necessary for sustainable development and peace. It is rare to see a President champion such cause, and for that he said “Thank you” to the President . Dr Ahonsi went on to say, as captain of the formidable UN family, he has very good players in his team. His job will be to let his team prioritise the issue of SGBV in Sierra Leone, and he will also commence on an international fund raising drive.
The President of LAWYERS (Legal Access through Women Yearning for Equality Rights and Social Justice), opined that the fund-raising drive should be open to the public and not restricted to the government and development partners. She said there are Sierra Leoneans that are passionate about SGBV and want a coordinated body they can donate to and work with. President Bio in his decisive manner immediately said an account should be set up to handle the fundraising, and start work on fundraising. One of the directors of National HIV/ AIDS secretariat, immediately pledged a personal donation of Le 5 million, to set the ball rolling.
President Bio concluded by showing sincere appreciation to members of the task force for their commitment and the leadership provided by the First Lady, saying he is convinced that the beautiful words they have spoken in this session, will be translated into action.
Strategic Communication DivisionOffice of The First Ladyinfo@officeofthefirstlady.gov.sl+232 303 68273
1. United Nations Resident Coordinator (UNRC)
2. United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)
3. United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF)
4. World Health Organisations (WHO)
7. British High Commission – Foreign and Commonwealth Office
8. Irish Embassy
9. National HIV / AIDS Secretariat (NAS)
10. Save the Children
11. Hon. Chief Justice
12. Ministry of Health and Sanitation
13. Office of the Chief Minister
14. Ministry of Social Welfare
15. Ministry of Basic and secondary Education
16. Ministry of Gender and Children’s Affairs
17. Ministry of Justice
18. Director of Public Prosecution
19. National Emergency Medical Services (NEMS)
20. Don Bosco Famble
21. Sierra Leone Police
22. Family Support Unit
23 Rainbo Initiative
24. Aberdeen Women Centre (AWC)
25. Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces (RSLAF)
26. National Children’s Commission (NCC)
27. Haja Dr. Isata Wurie – Consultant
28. Dr. Yvonne Harding – Co-Consultant
29. Dr. Olabisi C. Cole – Consultant
30. Defence for Children International