Access to Justice for 500 Women in Sierra Leone

by AdvocAid
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Access to Justice for 500 Women in Sierra Leone
Access to Justice for 500 Women in Sierra Leone
Access to Justice for 500 Women in Sierra Leone
Access to Justice for 500 Women in Sierra Leone
Access to Justice for 500 Women in Sierra Leone
Access to Justice for 500 Women in Sierra Leone
Access to Justice for 500 Women in Sierra Leone
Access to Justice for 500 Women in Sierra Leone
Access to Justice for 500 Women in Sierra Leone
Access to Justice for 500 Women in Sierra Leone
Access to Justice for 500 Women in Sierra Leone

[Trigger Warning: this story contains details of a violent relationship]

This is a story about a lady called Hickmatu. Her husband is physically and verbally abusive to her, and when she defends herself, she's arrested. This is such a common issue in Sierra Leone and makes violence a common pathway to prison. Indeed, our 2019 research showed that 72% of incarcerated women in Sierra Leone had suffered violence as adults at the hands of their partners.

Your support means that we can provide women like Hickmatu with legal representation as well as welfare and psychosocial support while incarcerated, ensuring they have access to justice. Thank you.


Hickmatu is a farmer, a wife, a mother of three children, and she was the breadwinner of her family. After her mother died, her caregiving burden increased leaving her with less time to engage in the domestic work she usually did . This angered her husband and resulted into endless arguments. For the sake of peace in the house, Hickmatu decided to do as her husband had instructed. She wanted to make her husband happy.

One day, when Hickmatu's husband was late to collect food for the workers at the farm, one of the workers came to their hime to pick up the food himself. While Hickmatu was serving him food, her husband showed up and in anger, took the food away from the worker and threw it away with the rest of the food. After all her hard work, this was very upsetting for Hickmatu. Out of anger and frustration, she picked up a stick to hit her husband, but her husband’s younger brother stepped in and took the stick from her.

She ran to the bedroom and locked the door, as she did not want her husband to beat her. Realising what she had done, her husband instead broke the bedroom window and started throwing stones at her. One stone hit her in the stomach, causing her so much pain. She told her husband to stop or she would pour water on him. He refused and kept at it. Convinced she had to defend herself, as her husband reached out to hit her again, Hickmatu picked up a container with water and poured it on him. She was unaware that the water had caustic soda in it (she was in the process of making soap).

Her husband yelled for help, claiming she had thrown caustic soda on him. She did not believe it until people came to his help and confirmed his claims. Hickmatu went into hiding, but was later arrested by Police and detained in Daru.

In late November 2022, she was charged to court for the offense of wounding with intent. After several adjournments while at the Daru Magistrate Court, she was detained at the Kenema Female Correctional Center.

The slow nature of Sierra Leone's legal system meant that she was incarcerated for months, unable to look after her children, or continue her business. 

It was while she was in Kenema Female Correctional Center, that hickmatu met AdvocAid's paralegal who was there to run some legal education sessions. She turned to the paralegal and talked to her about her vulnerability and how she needs legal services but she cannot afford them. The paralegal provided legal support, informing her of her rights and the process her case would take, and also contacted AdvocAid's social worker, to make sure Hickmatu had the welfare items she needed as well as some counseling - both in a group and individual sessions.

While incarcerated, Hickmatu realised that there were so many other women who shared a similar experience with her, This saddened her even more, unable to understand why no one protects women in their communities. During the counseling sessions, she talked about how she was depressed because she was separated from her family longer than she had expected and no one from her family had visited her as they lived very far and they lacked financial stability.

Fortunately, she was later discharged and released for want of prosecution, as her husband pleaded and told the court that he did not wish to continue with the matter. On her release, she told the paralegal that she was hoping that AdvocAid would do more to prevent women from being put behind bars, as well as take measures to protect the children of incarcerated women, and help them maintain communication with their families.

Today, Hickmatu is living happily with her family and taking steps to reintegrate in her community. She believes that with AdvocAid, women who are detained have a friend in AdvocAid, and as she now knows what to do and where to go, she will tell other women about AdvocAid.


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In 2022, KM (name protected for her privacy) was arrested for unlawful possession. She was helping her aunty clean up her house when the police came and arrested her. Although her aunty testified to the police that she was not involved in the matter, she was taken to a correctional centre.

KM received legal advice and support from AdvocAid’s paralegals and social workers. Additionally, after the intervention of the organization, she was cautioned and released.

The women we work with often have complicated realities. AdvocAid considers that access to justice should grant them – particularly the poorest and most underprivileged – the ability to access impartial, effective, and accountable instruments to protect their rights, control abuse of power, and conflict resolution.

 On behalf of the women and girls we work with, thank you for your continued support for AdvocAid. Each and every donor, nevertheless the size of their contribution, helps us provide women and girls with better opportunities to access justice.

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Photo - Boaz Reisel
Photo - Boaz Reisel

When Susan was 31 years old, she was arrested after her co-wife died. (Polygamy is common in some parts of Sierra Leone.) She was pregnant at the time. 

Susan received legal advice and support from AdvocAid’s paralegal and our AdvocAid appointed lawyer provided her with legal representation at the Magistrates Court and High Court. Susan gave birth to a baby girl while detained at the Freetown Correctional Center. AdvocAid's social worker supported her with food, clothes and other items for the baby.

In February 2022, AdvocAid's lawyer made a no case submission at Court and Susan was discharged due to want of prosecution.

Susan is currently living with her daughter and family members and taking steps to rebuild her life after this challenging experience.

The women we work with often have complicated realities. Court cases can take time, several years even, to progress. AdvocAid tries to make sure we support a woman, and her children, throughout this process and enable her to access justice.

On behalf of the women and girls we work with, thank you for your continued support for AdvocAid. Each and every donor, however big or small their contribution might be, helps us provide women and girls with legal empowerment services.






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Photo: Tom Bradley/ AdvocAid
Photo: Tom Bradley/ AdvocAid

* Trigger Warning - the report below contains information that may be distressing to some readers

On Boxing Day (26 December 2021), a 17 month old baby tragically died while being detained in a police station in Makeni (Northern Sierra Leone) with its mother. She had been detained on allegations of stealing a handbag.

Our offices were closed for the Christmas Break but our staff responded in order to support this woman to access justice. Our Makeni social worker, who was in hospital having just given birth, alerted the rest of the team to what had happened and started making calls to advocate for the mother. Our Makeni paralegal returned back from her vacation in the capital in order to assist. AdvocAid put out a press release the next day, calling for the mother to be released and for an investigation into the tragic death by the Independent Police Compaints Board (IPCB). Our calls were heeded. The mother was discharged and the IPCB announced they would commence an investigation. 

Our team continued to support the mother and arranged for her to get urgent medical treatment. Our paralegal went with her and waited with her in the hospital to make sure she was attended to without any problems. She also ensured that the family got a small grant to support them to buy medicines and food.

A few days later, the baby's body was taken to Freetown for an autopsy to be performed. One of our Freetown paralegals supported the family through this difficult process and went with them. He said it was not an easy experince for him but it was important that the family not feel alone through this. 

Justice is not just about the court room but also ensuring dignity, support and solidarity. We will continue to support this family through the investigation process and their fight for justice. 

We have also issued a press release, calling for the cases of all women and girls, especially those detained with young children, to be reviewed and considered for early release. 

As well as supporting individuals, AdvocAid also tries to focus on wider, systemic change. Our advocacy work highlights the need for a gender-responsive justice system and for international and regional standards to be implemented, which state that pregnant women and women with young children should be given alternatives to incarceration. We have also published a Police Complaints Manual which provides more information abour rights upon arrest and various ways to seek redress if they are violated. 

On behalf of the women and girls we work with, we thank you for your generosity. To get the latest news from AdvocAid please follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and sign up to our newsletter via our website.


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Recognising and considering a history of sexual and gender based violence (SGBV) when investigating and prosecuting women who commit violent crimes is a core advocacy message of our EU funded project “Enhancing Access to Justice for Sexual and Gender Based Violence Survivors and Promoting The Rights Of Women and Girls In Freetown, Bombali and Kenema”.

The project focuses on empowering women by providing them with knowledge on their rights and putting the power of the law into their hands to hold the system to account.

Through this project, 353 women received legal aid and representation, 40 women benefited from family tracing, and 107 women received psycho-social support since 2020.

Our paralegals monitor 18 police stations every week, including Family Support Units (FSUs), to identify women or girls in police custody who are in need of legal aid. AdvocAid’s paralegals took up their cases to ensure clients received due process.

As we move through year two of this project we will continue to develop legal education for correctional centres, remand homes, high risk groups, PWDs, teachers’ unions, women's groups, and religious and community leaders to work towards ensuring women and girls in Sierra Leone have access to justice.

On behalf of the women and girls we work for, thank you for helping us provide access to justice to those who need it most.


Rhiannon Davis
Executive Director | AdvocAid Sierra Leone

Tel (SL): +232 (0) 80 030 812
Tel (UK / WhatsApp): +44 (0) 7921 354 840
Find out more about us at | Facebook | Twitter
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Organization Information


Location: Freetown, Western Region - Sierra Leone
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @advocaid
Project Leader:
Rebecca Wood
Freetown, Western Region Sierra Leone
$35,738 raised of $40,000 goal
1,098 donations
$4,262 to go
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