The average person reading the news about the West African nation Sierra Leone in 2015 might never get further in terms of understanding Sierra Leone than the Ebola crisis. Indeed, this epidemic has taken a serious toll on Sierra Leone; in the first week of January there were 248 new cases reported, and thousands have died from Ebola in Sierra Leone. And though Sierra Leone remains "by far" the "worst-affected" country in Africa, there are positive signs that the spread of the virus might be slowing down (Reuters, 2015). Meanwhile, this research paper opens the door to a greater understanding of Sierra Leone as it delves deeply into the society in terms of how issues related to diversity and gender fairness impact the citizens.
Introduction to Sierra Leone -- After the Civil War
Any cultural critique of diversity and gender issues in Sierra Leone should be preceded by a brief historical review of how this nation arrived at its current independent status. The civil war in Sierra Leone (1991-2002) created great interest worldwide because of the atrocities that were reported. The "Truth and Reconciliation Commission" (TRC) documented 40,242 instances of human rights violations, including rape, maiming, destruction of property and forced labor -- and the TRC identified 14,995 victims of these atrocities (Bah, 2013). Some 20,000 citizens were reported to have been killed, and there were an estimated 100,000 amputations, and in the aftermath of that carnage a policy of "New Humanitarianism" (NH) was instituted by the United Nations. The NH policy was designed in order to build a stronger peace in Sierra Leone, and it was launched because as the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS) pointed out, "Millions of human beings are at the mercy of civil wars…" (Bah, 7).
Main Body -- Gender Justice in Sierra Leone
However, even though the United Nations intervened, and though the civil war is long over, there are very serious problems in Sierra Leone regarding gender justice and diversity in the social context of this country. Nine years of brutal, bloody civil war isn't remembered only for the politics and the body count, according to an article in the peer-reviewed journal Lancet. Those years of civil war "…unleashed widespread and systematic sexual violence" against grown women and girls (Bogert, et al., 2001). Most of the sexual violence was reported to have been committed by the rebels in the civil war, who used sexual violence to "terrorize the civilian population…and ultimately to control them" (Bogert, 304).
In the article the authors explain that not only do the victims of sexual violence suffer "serious health consequences," including the transmission of HIV / AIDS, the acts against women contribute to the demeaning of the feminine gender, which remains an enormous social problem in Sierra Leone (Bogert, 304).
Main Body -- Special Court for Gender-based Violence in Sierra Leone
After the civil war, a Special Court for Sierra Leone was established in Freetown, to pass judgment and ensure justice regarding the crimes against women and girls. This was an internationally formed tribunal, looking into not just rapes, but rapes with "…sticks, burning wood, and hot oil," along with the heinous crimes of sexual slavery, mutilation, forced child-bearing and forced marriage (Oosterveld, 2009). The estimation for how many women and children had been impacted by this gender-based violence is between 215,000 and 275,000.
However, in the four initial judgments rendered by this international court against the perpetrators of gender-based violence "fail[ed]" to make any contribution to justice. In fact the Special Court initially gave "modest but flawed" input to the terrible practice of gender-based transitional justice (Oosterveld, 76). Even more egregious is the fact that the Special Court failed to convict members of the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) for the crime against humanity of "sexual slavery"; and the Special Court overlooked "gender-based crimes against women and girls" that were committed by Sierra Leone's Civil Defence Forces (Oosterveld, 76).
In brief, the Special Court, established by the United Nations, was intended to build the peace and contribute to the process of "national reconciliation," and it was intended to confront crimes that were considered "…outrages upon personal dignity" (rape, forced prostitution and any form of "indecent assault") (Oosterveld, 77). However, it is...
When it comes to diversity, those women returning to Sierra Leone (from forced labor and other camps) after the civil war found that the sexual violence visited upon them rendered them socially unacceptable (Berhane-Selassie, 745). The women were now part of the diversity of the Sierra Leone community; they were outcasts, and they were rejected because they were "polluted"; actual and potential husbands "rejected them as wives," and most Sierra Leone men would not marry "the widows and single parents from unknown fathers" (Berhane-Selassie, 745).
The stigma on these displaced women who returned was so intense, many women preferred staying away from their communities, trying instead to survive "in altered socio-economic environments" (Berhane-Selassie, 745). Those that did return found that men would no longer clear brush for them -- which men used to do prior to the civil war -- so they could grow crops and be productive, the author continues on page 746.
The theoretical explanation for this newly instituted and mean-spirited cultural diversity is that the most likely new husbands for widows returning after the war adhered to past cultural practices (including Islamic practices). That is, a woman could only marry her deceased husband's "brother," if one was available; or she could marry another family member, but in nearly all cases, getting married was linked to land that a man may hold title to. Women could provide for their children (even if the children were born while she was enslaved in the civil war) if they had land to till. But because women were in many cases rejected by men because they had been "polluted," this left many women and their children economically "destitute," clearly they were members of the diverse outsiders group, trying to get back into the good graces of the community. In other words, the terrible civil war created a new kind of diversity that was gendered in substance and evil in terms of morality.
Diversity in Practice -- The Impact of Diversity in Sierra Leone
Rachel Glennerster and colleagues point out that right after the civil war, part of the explanation as to how the Sierra Leone culture is now so diverse can be found in the fact that there was a "…systematic movement of individuals" towards cultural regions where each individual's original ethnic group was "historically more numerous" (Glennester, 2013). Writing in The Economic Journal, Glennester explains that the greater the education that a woman (or any person) had prior to the civil war, the greater the likelihood that a returning woman would be attracted to "diverse areas" of Sierra Leone (Glennester, 286).
The authors go back to the colonization of Sierra Leone by the British in order to explain the "relatively good inter-ethnic cooperation" that exists in Sierra Leone today. That is because there are "strong traditional local authorities" that remain strong today notwithstanding the turmoil and carnage witnessed during the civil war. In Britain's colonial system there was a policy called "decentralized despotism"; this meant that certain tribal chiefs -- that had been elected by tribal "ruling families" -- were empowered by the British colonial authorities (Glennester, 287).
Still today, Glennester continues, these chiefs (who have tenure for their entire lives) have a strong sense of authority over local politics. To wit, they collect taxes from local citizens, they get royalties from the diamond mines and the logging industry; and they can legally punish those who fail to pay taxes through "public embarrassment and corporal punishment" (Glennester, 287-88). The point the authors are making here is that theoretically, ethnic diversity does not take away the power of these tribal chiefs. Why does this matter?
Going back to the founding of Sierra Leone (in the late eighteenth century) the former slaves who somehow got back to Western Africa (they were known as "Krio," or "Creoles") assumed political and economic positions that were privileged. These privileges were bestowed on the Krio people by the British, and today the language of Sierra Leone is in fact Krio (part English with numerous other linguistic influences). The fact that the language of Sierra Leone is Krio, gives the country a "national identity" that transcends the tribal cultural realities that still exist in the country (Glennester, 290).
That having been pointed out, it is worthy of note that chiefdom boundaries remain intact (there are 149 chiefdoms in Sierra Leone, with an average population about 22,000 per chiefdom), one can clearly see that diversity exists when…
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