From July 4th-14th 2006, International Alert conducted a mapping of the incidence of GBV and the programmes that are being implemented to address it in Sierra Leone on behalf of Irish Aid. Historically, women have been discriminated against and are heavily under-represented in the traditionally male-dominated political and socio-economic decision-making structures of Sierra Leone. Gender inequalities are prevalent throughout society, with women being more likely to be illiterate and suffer extreme poverty; their rights are frequently violated, and they have little access to resources and opportunities. Gender-based violence (GBV) in its physical and structural forms is endemic in Sierra Leone. It is a security concern that also has broader economic and political consequences. Therefore, failing to engage with the causes and effects of GBV will inevitably have long-term consequences for peacebuilding and development in Sierra Leone.
Sierra Leone is a highly patriarchal society, and institutionalised gender inequalities are exacerbated by discriminatory customs, particularly with relation to marriage, property rights and sexual offences. The high levels of illiteracy and poverty amongst Sierra Leonean women prevent them from upholding many of their internationally recognised rights. Similarly, economic insecurity contributes to women's vulnerability to GBV. Their marginalisation from local and national decision-making processes further limits their ability to redress these gender inequalities. Any attempt to address GBV in Sierra Leone must take these post-conflict realities into account and prioritise engagement with both men and women, including national and community leaders who are in a position to influence attitudes towards GBV.