By Kemo Cham
The local NGO FOCUS 1000 has trained 45 community activists as “champions” of gender equality, as part of its effort to complement government’s efforts in the fight against Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV).
The training was conducted on Wednesday, December 9, 2020, as part of a one-day forum commemorating the 16 Days of Activism on Sexual and Gender Based Violence.
The event which took place in the conference hall of the Council of Churches Sierra Leone, brought together activists from the Kombra Network, the grassroots community engages outfit affiliated to FOCUS 1000.
Victoria Squire, a Programme Manager with the NGO and one of the facilitators of the training, said its objective was to ensure that members of the Kombra Network were able to partake in the global campaign for gender equality, with particular focus on ending violence against women and girls.
During this Covid-19 pandemic, the margin of gender based violence has increased, said Ms Squire, citing data from the Ministry of Gender, Women and Children’s Affairs. She noted that this data indicated that there was a need for concerted effort to address the issue.
“Because of this, FOCUS 1000 decided to join the fight, to add on to the efforts in filling the gap in dealing with gender based violence,” she stated.
Participants were drawn from all 16 districts of the country, two people per district, one male and female each, plus all members of the National Kombra Network.
The Kombra Network is a coalition of grassroots organizations comprising religious leaders, market women, traditional healers, the media and the mainstream civil society. They serve as advocates at community level in promoting recommended health seeking behaviors and other relevant socio-cultural practices that conform with international best practices.
FOCUS 1000 officials say the participants are considered as “champions” who would go on to their various communities to help in the fight against SGBV.
Wednesday’s event served as a training of trainers; the participants in turn were expected to convene similar training sessions across all 16 districts of the country.
The training was center on human rights laws as they relate to Sierra Leone’s constitution and international treaties the country has signed up to, including the Maputo Protocol. They were also taken through the processes involved in reporting when violations occur.
Sierra Leone recently upped its fight against SGBV amidst rising cases of incidents of violations across the country. Of particular concern to campaigners has been a sharp rise in sexual assault cases, especially rape and sexual penetration of minors.
Mohamed Bailor Jalloh, Chief Executive Officer of the FOCUS 1000, urged the participants to see the 16 Days of Activism Against Sexual and Gender Based Violence as the preparation stage for their actions for the next 12 months.
“Achieving the goal requires collective efforts, beyond government’s intervention,” he said at the opening ceremony of the occasion at the CCSL.
The day’s event was sponsored by Irish Aid, whose representative recommitted the government of Ireland’s desire to see a Sierra Leonean society free of violence, especially against women and children.
In a presentation, the lead facilitator of the training, Bamie J. Sesay, an official from the Ministry of Gender, Women and Children’s Affairs, delved into specific provisions in the amended Sexual Offenses Act 2019, the Child Rights Act of 2012, as well as various international instruments Sierra Leone has ratified, to get the participants acquainted with the relevant sections in the fight against SGBV.
According to Sesay, violence against women and girls has been fueled by a culture of subjugation of the female gender to an inferior position in society, so that men seem to have come to the conclusion that women have no voice in society.
“Things that cause violence are our perceptions and how we think about women,” he stated.
“So we need to change these perceptions to ensure that we move from where we are,” he added.
The event also drew participants from other child rights partners of FOCUS 1000, including the Children Advocacy Forum Sierra Leone (CARSL) and the Youths and Child Advocacy Network (YACAN), whose representatives spoke on their roles in the fight against SGBV and recommitted to working with the NGO to achieve the collective goal for women and girls in Sierra Leone.