Perspectives from Sierra Leone/ On Line Legal Education TV Show Launched as part of 16 Days of Activism Against Violence Against Women
Opinion Editorial by Simitie Lavaly (Executive Director) & Sabrina Mahtani (Co-Founder), AdvocAid
Though the Ebola virus continues to devastate Sierra Leone, there are many other issues impacting the lives of girls and women in Sierra Leone and across the region. Many girls and women across Sierra Leone experience violence on a regular basis and some suggest that this has increased during the epidemic due to economic hardships and restrictions on freedom of movement.
Our organization, AdvocAid, provides legal aid and other services to women in conflict with the law, women who have been arrested or affected by the criminal justice system in some way. We regularly have cases of women who have suffered domestic violence and are themselves arrested when trying to defend themselves or retaliating after years of abuse.
Once such case is that of BA, a lady in her early twenties who is currently imprisoned for life in the Freetown Female Prison. She was found guilty in 2010 of the murder of her ex-boyfriend, whom she stabbed in self defence in 2009 in Kenema. At the time BA was believed to have been around 18 years old or younger; she had been an orphan from a very young age and had to fend for herself with the help of her older brothers. BA had split up with the ex-boyfriend some months earlier because he was violent towards her and would sell her items when he was broke. Unfortunately, she continued to reside in the same compound as him because she had paid rent in advance for her own apartment and had nowhere else to go. On the fateful day, the ex-boyfriend beat her with a rubber rope and then tried to strangle her in her apartment after they had a quarrel over her use of abusive language in a compound shared with other tenants. Although she had acted in self defence, the Trial Judge felt that her reaction was not proportionate to violence being inflicted on her and so the jury felt compelled to find her guilty of murder; accordingly she was sentenced to the death penalty, which was later commuted to a life sentence. We have filed an appeal against her conviction and wait for the Court of Appeal to give judgment on our submissions but court sittings have been affected by the Ebola virus affecting travel of court personnel into the country.
The Gender Acts, enacted in 2007, have a broad definition of what constitutes gender-based violence. It includes physical, verbal or emotional violence as well as economic violence such as refusing to pay maintenance support for the family or destroying property used to carry out business activities. Gender based violence impacts all women, across all tribes, regions, economic and educational levels.
Across the world, from 25 November to today, 10 December (International Human Rights Day) people have come together to demand an end to violence against women. We all have a part to play in this movement. From educating yourself and others about your rights, reporting acts of violence and demanding that Governments take stronger action to end violence against women.
POLICE CASE | THE SERIES
In order to educate women about their rights, AdvocAid launched a legal education TV series, Police Case, on line. An episode was shared every 4 days with the final series available today, Human Rights Day. The series follows the stories of 3 women who are arrested and follows their experiences through the criminal justice system. It also depicts strong and empowered female characters, such as the female lawyer or paralegal Vicky, often lacking in many Nollywood style dramas. The series is entirely Sierra Leone produced and is something for us to be proud of. It was nominated for an Innovating Justice Award. Our hope is that through social media more women, across Africa, will watch the series and educate themselves and others about their rights.