IT IS BECAUSE OUR SOCIETY TREATS GIRLS AS INFERIOR.
One morning recently, Sierra Leoneans around the world woke up to social media photos of the body of a young woman lying face up on a sandy beach in Freetown (Lumley). Her nicely braided hair strewn behind her head to the right, surrounded by trash. Her face and skin, although all covered in white sand, look beautiful; her full lips circle a horde of sand that had been stuffed in her mouth; blood is oozing from her left eye; her left hand stretched out to the left, her right hand is not visible; she is naked from belly down. The rest is left to your imagination.
A mortifying sight indeed! May God Rest the soul of this beautiful martyr, who died in this most horrific manner only because she is WOMAN!
This young woman was brutally gang-raped and killed in Freetown (West) in the most heinous and heartless manner one could imagine. Her RAPISTS have not been identified nor captured. As we are getting our heads around how and why this could have happened on a very busy beach, we have learned of two other gang rape killings: a ten year old girl was gang raped by four boys in a small town in Kailahun District (East), she has since died; and another young woman also gang raped and killed in Koinadugu District (North).
Each of these girls is not just somebody’s daughter, sister, granddaughter, each one of them is our daughter; we the people of Sierra Leone have failed in our responsibility to protect them because we have viewed and portrayed them as inferior in society.
We, the people of Sierra Leone, all around the world, act surprised and rightly express disgust at these horrors. We even share the disgraceful photos (adding salt to the wound) with words of sympathy. But we see no connection between that beautiful soul lying naked on that public beach, the little ten years old in Kailanhun, the young woman in Kabala and us. Yes, we the people must take an introspective look and see how and why we have contributed to these horrors in our society.
If you were born and raised in Sierra Leone, whether you are man or woman, you know this scenario: in most households, the boys wake up in the morning, clean themselves up, wear their uniforms, have breakfast (which was prepared by mom or a daughter) and off to school. Meanwhile, upon waking up, the girls have to sweep the floors, clean the kitchen, bathrooms, etc., and fetch clean water into the home (regardless of how faraway the well is), then they would clean themselves up, wear their uniforms and if they are up early enough, have breakfast and make it to school on time. Upon returning home from school, boys go to soccer fields to play or to study groups, etc., but girls have to be their mothers’ helpers, in the kitchen or babysit their young siblings or take a tray of akara to sell in the market to supplement the household income. Talk about super women in the making! This is one of the contributing factors leading to the disparity between girls and boys in education; the high illiteracy rate among women, their absence in community and national leadership and a plethora of consequences for women in general in our society.
The gang rape of these girls and the numerous unreported rapes and other abuses against women do not start on that beach or other places they have happened. They start in our minds as a people, in our homes where girls are the inferior servants; the schools, where girls are more likely to be preyed on and impregnated by older boys and some times teachers; the universities, where a young woman is guaranteed failure unless she sleeps with a professor; the halls of parliament, where our legislators are mute on women’s issues; the police stations and court houses, where girls and women get no justice. An example, the education minister, who raped a university student, has recently been cleared of all wrongdoing, despite the mountain of evidence proffered.
From the very bedrock of society, the family, we see examples of practices that have imbedded in our psyche as Sierra Leoneans, the idea that girls are the inferior servants. The boys who grow up in this environment become men who see women as the lesser gender and mere objects to be used in whatever way, most prevalently as sexual objects. Unfortunately, girls see themselves in the same light. This is quite tolerable in the Sierra Leone society, which is why rape victims are blamed, maligned and ostracized. But the men who rape them hardly suffer any consequences; sometimes a girl is even forced to marry her rapist.
In social media, we often see Sierra Leoneans sharing postings that make women the butt of jokes, to which both men and women contribute their “Likes,” “LoL” and “thumbs up” generously. Yet we do not see ourselves as contributors to violence against women by condoning such denigration of women. This is because we do not realize that physical and sexual violence are the culmination; how we view girls and women leads to how we portray them, our portrayals issue licenses to perpetrators of physical and sexual violence against women.
Our politicians have contributed to this inferior portrayal of women. Most male politicians in Sierra Leone are shamelessly best known for the flock of women they have amassed as concubines, rather than any real leadership legacy. Woefully, our young women also shamelessly aspire to becoming concubines of politicians, rather than aspiring to become politicians in their own rights. But then again, young women do not have many role models in our society other than those women who have acquired leadership roles, fame and fortune through their connections to the politicians.
Sexual and physical violence against women is so prevalent in Sierra Leone society; it even follows us to the diaspora. There are Sierra Leonean men who have criminal records for domestic violence in the western world, but are still accepted and given the platform to stand on as “presidential aspirants” in our country. When a woman in the diaspora calls the police because her husband banged her head against the wall, the families on both sides condemn her for “bringing trouble to her husband.” The fact that he could have killed her has no relevance to them.
As women who have been socially conditioned to accept this status, we act as the inferiors who can only hope to be in the shadows of our superior alpha, we are willing to be used and abused. Women are being used as the hidden brains behind politicians and political parties, they are the t-shirt and ashobie wearers who flood the streets to show support for a cunning politician who has shown no regard for them and has no plans to uplift them; women are the cooks and logistic strategists for political conventions and campaigns. At the end of the day, however, the leader’s concubines get the spoils, the rest of the women are left to fight with each other over superficial powers that are only good for oppressing other women around them.
In the last couple of weeks or so, three girls have been killed by gang rape in Sierra Leone all because we as a society see girls as inferiors.
To end the widespread physical and sexual violence against girls and women, we the people of Sierra Leone must wake up and examine the ways in which we have been contributing as a society by how we view girls and women. We must become conscious of the harmful portrayals of girls and women, condemn and rise up against practices that lead to these portrayals. Otherwise, physical and sexual violence against girls and women will only get worst; our leaders and politicians could care less.
We must be mindful of how we treat girls and to what extent we are tolerating wrong doings against them.