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International Women’s Day – March 8th 2011

International Women’s Day – March 8th 2011

Today marks the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day – a day to celebrate the economic, political and social achievements of women from past to present. Around the world thousands of speeches, tributes, events, parties, and even holidays are under way to celebrate and inspire women.

There are two ways of spreading light…To be the candle, or the mirror that reflects it… By Edith Wharton

I chose this day to pay tribute to all the Sierra Leonean women who made it possible for the DDR (Disarmament, Demobilzation and Re-integration) to succeed, especially women in the rural areas.

The devastation and hurt from a decade-long civil war is readily evident and the trauma and grief that Sierra Leonean women endured has not been easily overcome. Yet, they have become the mirror that reflects the light at the end of our tunnel.

During our 10+ years conflict, our brothers in the rural areas were either fighting or searching for work in temporary conflict free zones. Women were left behind to care for their immediate and extended families. Even when some of the men were available in the household, our gender ideologies placed a burden of reproductive work on women.

Moreover, with the targeting of women as a war tactic, these women were raped and subjected to other horrible atrocities. Some of them became female combatants to survive or became wives or forced laborers. These women were also left to cope with little or no support system with unwanted pregnancies and children from acts of rape.

When the guns were finally silenced, life in the refugee camps was only slightly better than the hardship and terror these women left behind.

Services rendered in the refugee camps were as basic as possible, and access to healthcare for their children and themselves was limited to essential medicine for malaria, cholera and diarrhea etc.  Women and girls became victims of sexual violence in some of these refugee camps and contraceptive availabilities were very rare. More often than not, there was no counseling service available to these women.

Even though these women were the majority of victims during our civil war, they were also survivors. They felt empowered by the sudden shift in gender roles. The conflict opened up unintended spaces for women’s empowerment that has created structural social transformations and has also produced new realities that redefined “gender roles” in Sierra Leone.

The challenge to survive in the absence of men helped create the sudden expansion of women’s role in their respective communities. These women who were once victims have now become agents of change in their community.

In order to resolve our broken down economy, we must continue to involve women as agents of change in Sierra Leone, or else we will continue to dissolve and never evolve.

My headtie off to my sisters of change in Sierra Leone.

Jariatu Sesay, USA

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