“Women’s Group Sierra Leone” Photo by ICGBV

Addressing GBV in Post-Conflict & Fragile States: A Case Study of Sierra Leone

Gender Based Violence is a global phenomenon. Many countries have a high level of acceptance of violence against women and girls, particularly during conflict situations. However, there is growing international recognition of the need to tackle GBV, particularly sexual violence, targeted at women in post-conflict situations.

The Irish Consortium on Gender Based Violence initiated a research project to document learning from Sierra Leone, which experienced protracted armed conflict from 1991 to 2002. It was characterized by abuses of human rights and humanitarian law, in which women and girls were specifically targeted. A decade of post-conflict recovery and transition made Sierra Leone the ideal site for assessing post-conflict approaches to GBV. The OECD/DAC Principles on Fragile States and Situations were used as a framework for the research. The research found two broad categories: Direct Programming, which addresses the prevention of GBV through behaviour-changing and awareness-raising programmes; and Mainstreaming Approaches, which embed anti-GBV programmes into schools, communities and wider systems.

What are the OECD/DAC Principles on Fragile States and Situations and how do they apply to this situation?

Principle 1. Take context as the starting point. Action Aid Sierra Leone ensured that its programming was based on an understanding of how GBV had taken place historically. This meant everyone involved could identify and understand the nature of violence before, during and after the conflict and the particular vulnerabilities facing women and girls that need to be addressed in the post-conflict context.

Principle 2. Do not Harm, and Principle 9. Act fast… but stay engaged long enough to give success a chance. Four basic components operated here:

  • Prevention through promoting behaviour change and positive messaging on gender equality.
  • An Economic and Social Empowerment Programme, to establish savings and loans systems to promote women’s economic empowerment.
  • Provision of Essential Services.
  • Advocacy to promote effective responses to GBV at national, district and grassroots levels.

Principle 3. Focus on statebuilding as the central objective. In Sierra Leone, the Access to Justice and Law Centre (AJLC), partner of Trócaire, provides legal aid to women wishing to pursue legal redress for GBV through the criminal justice system. Engaging with national structures is key in ensuring that when women are encouraged to report violence, the systems and services are ready to respond.

Principle 4. Prioritise Prevention, and Principle 5. Recognise the links between political, security and development objectives. The issue of violence in homes, schools etc. must be included in approaches to development and security. The Rehabilitation and Development Agency, partner of Christian Aid, brings gender security into programming by linking GBV during conflict with that in peace.

Principle 6. Promote nondiscrimination as a basis for inclusive and stable societies. Concern Worldwide works with partner Pinkin-to-Pinkin to undertake a multi-faceted approach which radiates from the school to communities, and has developed a referral pathway for the reporting of School-Related GBV. Raising awareness at school and community level is not enough. Engaging with police and other services is equally important.

Principle 7. Align with local priorities in different ways in different contexts. The Centre for Democracy and Human Rights, a partner of Trócaire, found ‘starting from where people are already at’ works best. Working with existing opinion formers and leaders showed that GBV is not a religious or social ‘given’. Staff attended services to observe how these messages were being delivered or taught.

What can we learn from this case study?

There are contradictory views in Sierra Leone about whether the conflict still impacts on the current situation. Questions remain as to when a post-conflict status ends, when ‘development’ begins, and how agencies are to interpret these. Programming to combat GBV must take into account the political, social and economic changes that occur in post-conflict transition. It must also take into account that not everyone believes past conflict continues to have a bearing on a situation. A series of recommendations were made so programmes could respond in such contexts:

  1. Use the OECD/DAC Principles to inform project design, so that past and present are both taken into account.
  2. Enhance your organisation’s understanding and strategic response to the complexities of post-conflict transition.
  3. Work to understand GBV and the challenges faced by women and girls after conflict.
  4. Identify and utilise any appropriate post-conflict opportunities.
  5. Work to secure a supportive policy and legislative framework.
  6. Work in a connected way at multiple levels by co-ordinating with other agencies.
  7. Be clear in your communications.
  8. Address demand and supply needs at the same time.
  9. Provide leadership on, and standards for, approaches to addressing GBV.
  10. Use existing international agreements and strategies, such as the UN Women, Peace and Security Resolutions.

Women and girls face particular challenges in dealing with GBV during a conflict and in relation to the on-going violence experienced in their homes and communities after conflict.

Post-conflict states require different approaches to development in terms of GBV than those which are employed in more stable or developing countries.


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