For women like 28 year old Fudia Conteh , a mother of three living in Kathirie village, life has long been about a struggle against the dominance of men.
Thanks to the ActionAid Violence Against Women project, started in Kathirie in 2007, a lot has changed in favour of the women folk.
Fudia Conteh stated: “Before the Violence Against Women project, my husband treated me badly. He did not buy clothes for me or provide food for the children and refused to pay school fees for the children. He would beat me anytime we had a quarrel. He took control of the harvest from the farm even though I do most of the work. I had to resort to collecting firewood from the bush to feed my children.
It was only the men who had the right to discuss issues relating to the development of our village. Women were never asked to attend meetings.
“When ActionAid came, they promised to make us understand our rights. They took me and the town chief to the city, where we were trained about the rights of women and given the opportunity to talk to some highly placed people about the condition of women in our village. I returned back to my village a changed person.”
Although there has been a non-formal primary school in the community for the past 20 years, Illiteracy among women is almost 100%. Reasons for this are varied, but include acute poverty, the refusal of parents to send females to school and early marriages as well as issues of teenage pregnancy among the young girls.
Kathirie village is in the Sella Limba Chiefdom of the Bombali district in Northern Sierra Leone and lies about 42 kilometres from the District Headquarter town of Makeni. It has a population of about 600 people, of which 70% are women.
The major livelihood activity for women is farming but wood selling and petty trading are also undertaken to supplement incomes.
Most of their marriages are arranged and women are considered property by their husbands. Girls as young as 8 years old have been sent into marriages. Most women in these marriages are subjected to beatings, starvation, and deprivation by their husbands and they have nowhere to seek redress.
The Violence Against Women project provided credit facilities for women to do small businesses and use the profits to buy more seeds and make larger farms or pay their children’s school and medical bills. The Adult Learning programme has helped about 25 women to read and write, and rape cases have been made a thing of the past.
I have never been to school but with the introduction of the adult learning programme by the Violence Against Women project, I can now read, write and do some basic calculations
“In the women’s group formed by the Violence Against Women project, I was appointed women’s leader. When I became leader of the women I ensured that we invited the men to our meetings so that they would get to understand the issues. We realised that they were doing all those things not because they are wicked, but because they were ignorant of the issues. At first, a lot of them felt ashamed to discuss the issues, but over time, most have them have changed their attitudes and as I speak, all the men in our village now respect their wives’ needs and views. For example, the issue of wife beating was addressed as a key issue in one of our meetings and some of the men felt so guilty that they apologised publicly to their wives.
“We want to thank ActionAid for all that they have done for women in Kathiri village. Now our children go to school. We also have money to do our petty trading and can pay our children’s school fees.”