This week, representatives from Trócaire are at the fifty-seventh session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) at the United Nations. Carol Ballantine, our HIV and Gender Equality Policy Officer, shares her experiences so far.
Representatives of the world’s governments are meeting at the UN Commission for the Status of Women to agree on a way to eliminate violence against women and girls forever. On Friday, the Irish Consortium on Gender Based Violence
hosted an event at the UN. Trócaire is a member of the Consortium, which carried out research recently on gender based violence in post-conflict states, using our work in Sierra Leone as an example.
Joining us from Makeni in northern Sierra Leone was Massie Bah, a science and economics teacher, who established the Centre for Democracy and Human Rights (CDHR) towards the end of his country’s vicious civil war. Massie was shocked by the brutal abuses in war-torn Sierra Leone in 2001. A small number of human rights organisations were operating in the capital, but they were few and could not possibly address the need throughout the country.
CDHR was established to document the human rights abuses of the war, to tell people’s stories and demand justice. Trócaire has worked with them since 2006. Collecting these stories, Massie saw that many of them told of brutal violence against women. He heard stories of rapes, abductions of women and young girls and their use as sex slaves by fighters of every side. He travelled to the UN in New York this week to share his experiences.
From left to right: Massie Bah, Director, CDHR; Aisling Swayne, UN Women and independent consultant; Kathleen Lynch, Minister of State for Disability, Older People, Equality and Mental Health; Helen Keogh, Chief Executive at World Vision Ireland and Chair of the Gender Based Violence Consortium.
The end of the war didn’t mean the end of violence against women. The war brought about big changes in individual lives: many men left their homes to fight, many died, others returned years later, traumatised by their experiences. Their wives, sisters and mothers had taken on new responsibilities in their absence, and it was often difficult to adjust to their return. Thanks to the work of CDHR and similar organisations, women were more aware of their rights, and beginning to learn to stand up to violence. In some cases, men responded to these changes with anger, and domestic violence increased.
At the CSW, Massie talked about how Trócaire’s support has enabled CDHR to fight this violence in many ways. Working not only with women, but also with their husbands, they tell people that violence against women is always a crime, and they help couples to coexist without violence. CDHR works with the police and health services, to ensure that women who report violence receive sensitive follow-up treatment. And they work with government ministries to insist that violence against women is seen as a national priority.
“I don’t want to testify behind closed doors. I want the world to know what happened to me.”
The room in the UN building was packed with people who were working on similar responses around the world: in Uganda, South Sudan, Pakistan, Ireland. It was inspiring to be surrounded by people committed to breaking the silence around violence against women. The people we have met at the CSW this week are overwhelmingly committed to making violence against women a thing of the past. Over the next week, we’ll see if our politicians can deliver on the commitment, and the plan.