In her introductory remarks, McCarthy linked their visit to their partnership of the CSIW which had been supported by the Social Sciences Humanities Research Council Partnership Grant (SSHRC) of York University, Toronto, Canada revealing that the Director of the project is Professor Annie Bunting of York University and the Coordinator happened to be Ms. Veronique Bertrand-Bourget.
Giving an overview of the project, McCarthy stated that the project was born out of a desire to source the experience of war sexual violence victims, through research and legal proceedings as she went on to state that the partnership comprises academics, researchers, lawyers and women’s organizations from ten countries across Africa and Canada all working together in order to promote the welfare of survivors.
She highlighted that since 2008, their network of researchers had been tracking the developments in the field of international laws that relating to the prosecution of enslavement for the purposes of ‘forced marriage’ during conflicts and after peace being achieved. She ascertained that the project currently working on four thematic areas as follows; men’s experiences of ‘forced marriage ‘ and masculinity in conflict situations; the relationship between wartime violence and existing/historical gender norms; the post-conflict impact of stigma on children born of war; and the ongoing debates about the effectiveness of the tribunals and the commissions, McCarthy also highlighted the role of Women’s Forum in the CSIW partnership as researchers, advocates and organizers of conferences such as the International Conference on Forced Marriage in Conflict Situations (Sierra Leone) in collaboration with the Social Science Humanities Research Council at York University and the Special Court in Sierra Leone in 2011.
McCarthy expressed delight to be at the camp, in solidarity with the victims, as she gave them hope for the future, underscoring that their interventions have laid the foundation for more concrete support for the socio-economic empowerment of their clientele and underscored the importance of socio-economic empowerment for the promotion of leadership and decision –making among women, even in the camps.
Furthermore, she made reference to the reparations programme implemented by the Reparations Directorate and the benefits gained by most of the registered victims of sexual violence (grants, grant plus skills,) but lamented that some victims did not register and so did not gain any reparations benefits noting that representation had been made to NACSA for re-opening a new window of registration but this has not happened.
Dilating on the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), McCarthy said that various recommendations were made for righting the wrongs of the past, that some of them had been implemented but that there are still some left to be implemented disclosing that in this connection, the Human Rights Commission of Sierra Leone currently acting as a Follow—up Committee for the TRC recommendations.
She made reference to the just concluded advocacy event organized by the Women’s Forum which was attended by the Hon. Minister of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs, senior officials of her Ministry, donors and women’s organizations; and commended the Hon. Minister for her commitment to support their work with victims of sexual violence.
According to her even though the war ended years ago, the victims still need help, that whatever resources they had were depleted during the outbreak of the Ebola Viral Disease (EVD) reiterating that Women’s Forum advocates to highlight the challenges faced by the victims adding that even though WFSL was yet to give them material benefits, she hopes that these activities would help to build up a story that would yield more positive results for them, especially their children some of whom are now youths and need to be empowered so that they can make their own contribution to society.
In her intervention, Maude Peacock expressed delight for being part of the process; as she assured the victims that Women’s Forum visitation was because of their concern for the victims and went on to say that as a specialist in psychosocial counseling she, like her colleagues, understands how they are feeling as a result of their experiences during the war.
She also revealed that she worked with the TRC as a consultant in the early days informing that all the needs identified by the victims are similar to those outlined in the TRC document stressing that even though the war ended nearly twenty years ago, yet there is need to continue to publicize the bitter experiences of the victims of sexual violence as they are still fresh in their minds.
Peacock continued that Women’s Forum was in solidarity with them and consider themselves part and parcel of the victims, concluding by commending McCarthy and her team of researchers (Rosetta Sovula and Gladys Hastings—Spaine) for the interest and commitment to the welfare of the victims and prayed that God continues to bless our efforts.
Responding, the chairlady and victims at the Grafton War Wounded Camp thanked the team for their efforts to advocate on their behalf pointing out that they were deprived in many ways such as medical, shelter, sustenance and education.
She said many of the victims had children born of rebels but did not have husbands to help them take care of the children intimating that they have formed an organization known as ‘War Affected Women’ with a constitution as well as an office.
She went on to say that the children were living with them in the camp and attending schools, that they have primary and secondary schools and a vocational center but lamented that they are striving very hard to resend their children to school and need more support in this direction.
Other victims complained of marginalization from society and the fact that some of them were abandoned initially pointing out that they were shunned and mocked in society as a result of their experiences during the war while a few revealed that they registered with NACSA but did not benefit anything and still have their verification slips and appealed for educational support for their children; shelter; medical, health; provision of skills training for those not yet trained and to register those who missed the first round of registration.
Women’s Forum representatives assured the victims of their support at all times emphasizing that their advocacy role and hoped that this would lead to more concrete results in the future and advised to register their organization with the Women’s Forum.