Debates of the Senate (Hansard)

2nd Session, 37th Parliament,
Volume 140, Issue 79

Tuesday, September 30, 2003
The Honourable Dan Hays, Speaker

Women’s Conditions in Sierra Leone

Hon. Mobina S. B. Jaffer: Honourable senators, as members of the parliamentary delegation to West Africa, Senator Andreychuk and I visited Sierra Leone and saw how lives are devastated and shattered by the 10-year civil war. However, the effects of conflict and post-conflict zones are different for women than they are for men. Sierra Leone is ranked last on the 2003 UNDP’s Human Development Index.

Throughout the armed conflict in Sierra Leone from 1991 to 2001, thousands of women and girls of all ages, ethnic groups and socio-economic classes were subjected to widespread and systematic sexual violence, including individual and gang rape, rape with objects and sexual slavery. Furthermore, amputation of limbs was often used as a weapon of war. A daily reminder of war exists all around with the number of amputees in the community.

Many women in Sierra Leone have survived rape and molestation. They have lost their spouses, their children and their community. The war has greatly disempowered women, not only by destroying their families and communities but also by making it virtually impossible for women to participate in their nation’s political rehabilitation.

Thousands of former combatants of the 10-year civil war who have spent years murdering and raping are returning to their communities to live amongst the women and children whom they traumatized. The greatest concern consistently expressed by survivors of sexual violence was that fighters would return and abuse them again.

It is important that the voices of these women be heard. It is on their shoulders that the greatest burden is placed in trying to restore normalcy within families in which children bear the physical and mental scars of warfare; families in which thousands, including the women themselves, are amputees. Yet these women are still expected to carry the greater load of maintaining households of families living in desperate poverty, with no means of support and with insurmountable health issues that need to be addressed.

The Canadian Committee on Women, Peace and Security is working with networks in many conflict and post-conflict zones around the world. We have worked closely with the Afghan diaspora in Canada to engage them in the rebuilding of Afghanistan. We look forward to building partnerships and linkages with women and their networks in Sierra Leone.

Honourable senators, I encourage you to find ways to connect and to build relationships with these women so that we may learn from each other and inform Canadians. We must make building strong partnerships a priority with these countries that are in conflict and have so few resources.