International Rescue Committee (IRC)

In Sierra Leone, a special place for women

Last week I returned from a visit to Sierra Leone, where I was on location with journalist Nick Kristof, actress Eva Mendes and the film crew of Half the Sky, a documentary series to air in 2012. The film series will focus on abuses and inequities faced by women and girls around the world and inspiring women who are combating them and finding solutions. Half the Sky is partnering with the International Rescue Committee on a film segment about sexual violence. 

During my trip, I visited the Kailahun Women’s Center — a special place where women gather to talk, learn new skills, like soap-making and catering, and conduct business.  It also serves as a safe house for women and girls who have been sexually assaulted and need short-term shelter.  And an IRC counselor is always on standby there to provide care, emotional support and guidance for survivors of violence and refer them to a partner clinic where they can receive appropriate medical care. 
The IRC built the facility shortly after Sierra Leone’s civil war because there was no place where women could go to speak openly about the problems they were facing and or get needed help as they struggled to recover from the long and violent conflict.  
Kailahun is where the war started and where the war ended, the IRC’s Christiana Gbondo tells me, pointing out the skeletal remains of burned out buildings scattered about the town.   
At the center today, Christiana is energetically holding court – hosting a gathering of women to discuss the causes of ongoing sexual violence and ways to engage men in their effort to make the community a safer place for women and girls. 


I am currently a student

I am currently a student enrolled in a women's studies course. We have recently read an article by Anne Enke called "Smuggling Sex Through the Gates: Race, Sexuality, and the Politics of Space in Second Wave Feminism". Anne Enke characterizes women-centered spaces as "cultures of activism" that are fundamental to women's liberation movements. These spaces function as sites for "new ways to apprehend the emergence, proliferation, and on-the-ground manifestations of feminist activism." I believe Kailahun Women's Center will provide these women with a place for security and innovation. The concept of "safe space" incorporates a women's shelter, free of put-downs and abuse, open to all women who need support. This center, built by the IRC and run by Chrisitana, will allow women in Sierra Leone to gain access to power, ownership, and domination.

The violation of women's

The violation of women's rights has become a norm in modern day Siera Leone. However, with the help of international organisations like IRC and Oxfam, people, especially men are begining to realise that women are now partners in development and that they too have the same rights as men. Kailahun will be a safer place for women and girls. We are not going to leave the task to Christiana alone.