(formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

Campaign on violence against women launched

A 16-day campaign targeting violence against women was launched on Monday in the Sierra Leonean capital, Freetown, by the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL).

Explaining the importance of the period chosen for the campaign, UNAMSIL's Patrice Vahard told journalists on Saturday that the dates linked the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, which fell on 25 November, and the International Human Rights Day, commemorated on 10 December, a UNAMSIL statement said.

"Radio UNAMSIL will be hosting two call-in radio programmes, one on rural and disabled women to give them the possibility of echoing their concern about gender-based violence [and] the other on uprooted women," Vahard said. Other activities were also planned, he noted.

Vahard said the campaign targeted people of both sexes from all social strata, in towns and the countryside. "Gender violence unfortunately involves men and women, and largely is perpetrated by men," he noted, adding that it was a development issue that should concern everybody.

He said not only UNAMSIL's headquarters in Freetown, but also UNAMSIL offices in the eastern town of Kenema and the northern towns of Makeni and Port Loko had lined up programmes for the campaign. The idea, he said, was to get people "to realise that we can build a culture that says no to violence against women but also to promote equal participation."

Thousands of women were subjected to various types of violence, including harassment, rape, mutilation and murder, during Sierra Leone's 10-year rebel war, which ended in January 2002.

According to a report by a panel of experts commissioned by the UN Fund for Women (UNIFEM) 94 percent of displaced households surveyed in Sierra Leone had experienced sexual assaults, including rape, torture and sexual slavery.

Many girls had been abducted and forced to stay with rebels until they escaped or until the ceasefire was signed, according to the report, titled Women, War and Peace. "They had been raped repeatedly" and, like many other young girls with no family or livelihood, they had made their way to the city and were earning a living on the streets.

"Many will be physically and emotionally scarred for the rest of their lives which, in too many cases, will be painfully short, since they often have unprotected sex because men will pay more for it that way," said the report, which also focused on other wartorn countries.

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