Helpline receives over 10,000 calls about GBV

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By Tabora Bojang

Aisha Baldeh, the executive director of PF Initiative which provides assistance to victims and survivors of gender-based violence, has disclosed that the national 1313 helpline created for victims to report GBV cases for swift intervention, recorded over 10,000 calls between July 2020- June 2022.

Ms Baldeh said while over 500 of these calls relate to sexual and gender-based violence cases, a large number of them are requests for medical, financial and food support.

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The women’s rights activist said there is a critical need to broaden sensitisation to encourage survivors to speak out on their ordeals because “there is a lot of gender-based violence in the society.”

“There are cases of young girls being raped in schools causing trauma for their families. We have seen more and more victims being bullied and blamed on social media and people continue to use religion and culture to suppress women,” Madam Baldeh lamented.

The PF Initiative, formerly Paradise Foundation, in partnership with the UNFPA, Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Welfare were joined by hosts of advocacy and rights groups to launch a new campaign under the slogan “SpeakOut’ against sexual and gender-based violence by calling 1313.

The launch, held at the Paradise Suites Hotel Thursday evening and graced by the UNDP and UNFPA country representatives Ms. Aissata De and Ms. Ndeye Rose Sarr, also presented an opportunity for civil society organisations and activists to reflect on Gambia’s successes and challenges in tackling widespread gender-based violence in the country.

The campaigners said there is a need to popularise the purpose of the 1313 GBV help line which was established under the “Tahawou Jigueen” project in 2020 to bring protection, hope and healing for victims and survivors. 

Many speakers, who addressed the gathering, lamented that despite laws enacted by the government and advocacies by rights groups, women and girls are still facing high rates of violence with very low conviction rates while survivors continue to face difficulties to speak out due to patriarchy and persistent negative attitudes towards women.

The national coordinator of the Network against Gender Based Violence Fallou Sowe, provided a gloomy picture of the prevalence of gender-based violence in the country.

He said the 2019-2020 Demographic Health Survey indicated that domestic violence has jumped from 26% in 2013 to 48% in 2019-2020 with the majority of them women and girls suffering in silence.

“Our families are not safe; our girls are not safe even our boys are not safe now because 11 boys have been reported raped over the past 2 years. We have 533 cases of GBV reported in our one stop centres in 2021 and just a third quarter into 2022 we already have 642 cases,” Sowe reported.

He warned that if actions are not taken to address this ‘pandemic’ no one is safe.

Women’s rights activist Fatou Baldeh MBE, the founder of Women in Liberation and Leadership, WILL, charged: “These abuses occur in our households and they are perpetrated by close relatives and families. Women are not believed when they speak; they are ridiculed and reduced to bullies on social media. This is preventing a lot of girls subjected to gender-based violence from speaking because they are not believed and as a result perpetrators get away with impunity,”

The chairperson of the National Women Council Isatou DEA Sawaneh, said it requires constant confrontation by activists, rights and advocacy groups to address the growing trend of GBV.

“When a woman fights back, they say you are aggressive, you are not a womn because to them a woman is someone who should just sits home, cooks and just says yes sir, yes to everything and you cannot develop.” 

Madam Sawaneh said reviewing national laws to ensure they fit the changing dynamics of crime is necessary to strengthen the fight against GBV.

“The criminals are given lot of powers and you need a solid and strong evidence to bring a rape case against them. We have to continue to fight and shun the ‘maslaha’ syndrome.