Post-prison Support for 300 Women in Sierra Leone

by AdvocAid
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Post-prison Support for 300 Women in Sierra Leone
Post-prison Support for 300 Women in Sierra Leone
Post-prison Support for 300 Women in Sierra Leone
Post-prison Support for 300 Women in Sierra Leone
Post-prison Support for 300 Women in Sierra Leone
Post-prison Support for 300 Women in Sierra Leone
Post-prison Support for 300 Women in Sierra Leone
Post-prison Support for 300 Women in Sierra Leone
Post-prison Support for 300 Women in Sierra Leone

Women, upon release, face several challenges in Sierra Leone. Social stigma and family abandonment only reinforce their marginalisation, exposing them to high risks and the likelihood of being in contact with the law again. AdvocAid constantly supports formerly incarcerated women to strengthen their reintegration into society and allow them to take up an activity that will improve their economic situation. For example, in 2022, AdvocAid supported several women and girls with start-up grants to start their own businesses, medical support, transportation, and schooling. However, this is not a one-way street. There is a symbiosis between AdvocAid and Go Bifo women. Their feedback on our work and experiences with the criminal justice system helps AdvocAid reevaluate and improve our approaches. The women are also an essential guide for our advocacy work. When advocating for legal reform, those women give us relevant insights into specific laws' consequences on their everyday life. Your donations enable us to empower the women and girls we work with and offer them sustainable support in prison and beyond.

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Advocacy Message from Member of Go Bifo
Advocacy Message from Member of Go Bifo

 

Women who have been in prison face stigma across the world, including in Sierra Leone. In 2020, together with the Vance Center, we interviewed 86% of women in prison in Sierra Leone. 52% of the women interviewed feared for their safety upon release, due to stigma. Many women stated that their families abandoned them after they had been in prison or they returned to find their property had been sold.  

AdvocAid has set up "Go Bifo" groups (meaning "Moving Forward" in Krio) - groups of formerly incarcerated women. These groups are safe spaces for women to meet and provide peer support and income generating opportunities. 

On 8 March 2022, Mbalu* - a member of Go Bifo - participated in the Break the Bias Campaign for International Women's Day, alongside other formerly incarcerated women and organisations working with and for incarcerated women and girls. She shared her story of the stigma she faced and called for the bias to be lifted against incarcerated women and girls. (There is a link to the video below)

This builds on other advocacy work AdvocAid has done. For example, in 2021 we held a workshop with UN Women with 18 women and girls recently released from prison. They shared their stories and views on the impact of COVID-19 on women and gave recommendations for policy reform and access to legal aid services. 

Thanks to your donations on GlobalGiving, we are able to provide small grants to women leaving prison so they can buy essential items and we also try to offer start-up grants for income generating activities where possible. 

It is very challenging to obtain donor funding for this work supporting women after they are released. In 2021, AdvocAid were part of a Women Beyond Walls report - Forgotten by Funders - which looked at the challenges of funding work with and for incarcerated women and girls. The report found that this work is severely underfunded, even by women's rights and human rights funders. In particular, it found there is a key gap in funding work with women and girls post-incarceration.

We are especially grateful for your donations which enable this important work to continue. Thank you for helping us to Break the Bias.OrThiganisations receive insufficient funding to fully implement all their strategies, particularly their work with women and girls post-incarceration.

* Name changed to protect her identity

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Sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) remains prevalent globally. In Sierra Leone, 45% of women aged 15-49 report having experienced physical and/or sexual violence by an intimate partner at least once in their lifetime.

AdvocAid's 2020 report - Women Wahala Na Prison - reports that women survivors of SGBV are more likely to come into contact with the law. Our research for the report found that the vast majority of detained women interviewed reported suffering at least one form of violence once in their lifetime. 

This was the case for Amie*, who received constant financial, pschological and physical abuse from her husband. When she caught him with another woman in her home, she reacted, wounding the other woman. Amie was arrested and sentenced to two years in prison. At the time she was three months pregnant. She describes her period in incarceration as "painful" - lacking the services she needed as both a pregnant woman and a new mother.

When she and her then child were released, she could not return home as her husband rejected her and refused to accept the child as his. Amie was homeless and on the streets with her daughter. 

Amie learned about AdvocAid's post-prison support and we were able to give her the care and support she needed. 

This included housing support to pay for rent for a year, and a business start-up grant, which Amie has spent setting up a small business trading "fry fry" - various fried snacks and meals. AdvocAid has also linked her up to the Go Bifo women's group (a support group meaning 'moving forward' in Krio), and one of our social workers meets with her monthly to follow up on her progress, and provide continued mental and emotional support. 

Amie told us: "Life for women in this country is really hard, we suffer a lot at the hands of men. But I will make sure this doesn't define me, as a single mother, through AdvocAid's support."

AdvocAid can only provide this kind of support with the generosity of donors like you. We complement it with longer term interventions that focus on systemic change in Sierra Leone, such as changing law and attitudes. Thank you for continued support. 

*this is a fictional name to protect the woman's identity

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Women tend to experience mental health illnesses more frequently than men while incarcerated. Poor mental health can be a pathway and a consequence for imprisonment. In our Women Wahala Na Prison report, 40% of women said they had suffered from anxiety before their imprisonment. Incarceration can heighten anxiety and depression. We have continuously worked to provide mental health services to our clients through counselling and welfare support.

 

AdvocAid’s mental health counsellor continues to provide regular counselling and trauma healing services to both current incarcerated women and newly released women and girls as well as their families. These counselling sessions allow us to assist women and girls by assessing their needs and supporting them with the required care and treatment.

 

Mental health counselling is vital in our work to assist women and girls in Sierra Leone who come into contact with the law. Maria*, a client of AdvocAid, found it very difficult to interact with other women while incarcerated due to her condition, epilepsy.  Maria faced discrimination due to her condition. AdvocAid supported Maria through counselling to make sure she had all the necessary support before returning to her community. After continuous counselling, AdvocAid supported Maria with achieving her dream of becoming a professional teacher by paying her college fees.

 

We will continue to raise awareness about mental health and the criminal justice system in Sierra Leone. In order to continue monitoring Correctional Centres and providing women like Maria with counselling and welfare support, we need your continued support. On behalf of the women and girls we work with, we thank you for your generous donations to AdvocAid.

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In 2003, MK* (name protected for her privacy) was arrested and detained in Sierra Leone, for the murder of her stepdaughter. Between 2003 and the beginning of her trial in March 2005, MK received no legal advice or assistance. MK was illiterate, terrified and all on her own. She suffered a miscarriage whilst in prison, and had no hope left in life, all for something she had not done.

MK’s husband had accidentally sat on the six-month-old baby, suffocating it. Together, they tried to revive the baby, but to no avail. They were both arrested, and he told the police that she had poisoned the baby with battery fluid. They believed him. MK’s husband told her  to confess and that the matter would be resolved in a traditional family way. MK thumb printed a confession (which she was not able to read) that was later used against her in trial. “I said that I was guilty because my husband told me to.”

In 2005 MKs trial went before a judge – unable to understand English, she had no idea what was happening throughout the proceedings. The defence failed and MK was found guilty by a jury of murder. She was sentenced to death and transferred to a maximum-security prison in the capital, Freetown where she spent six years in a correctional centre.

Shortly after MK’s sentencing, AdvocAid met MK in one of our literacy classes. We took on her case.  In November 2010, we succeeded in ensuring MK’s matter was put back on the court listings and the Court of Appeal agreed to hear the case. Numerous holes were found in the case and were cited as grounds for the case to be reconsidered; these included MK’s husband, the primary witness, having never been cross-examined.

In March 2011, MK’s case was heard by the Court of Appeal. The judge overturned the earlier ruling, and the prosecution dropped its case against her. On that day, MK was released from death row, six years after her sentencing and eight years after her imprisonment. She was the longest serving woman on death row in Sierra Leone.

MK was afraid of returning home to her husband and was tragically estranged from her son who had been just eighteen months old when MK was imprisoned. MK had been a student in AdvocAid’s classes whilst on death row and achieved basic literacy and numeracy skills. Upon release, she aspired to start a small business to provide herself and her family with an income and wanted to take tailoring and catering courses.

We continued to work closely with MK, providing her with vital post-prison support and supported her through vocational training school. Today, in 2021, she has moved on with her life and, while we continue to keep in touch, she no longer needs AdvocAid's support. With your support, we will continue to provide post-prison support to women like MK for as long as they need it.

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Organization Information

AdvocAid

Location: Freetown, Western Region - Sierra Leone
Website:
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Twitter: @advocaid
Project Leader:
Simitie Lavaly
Freetown, Western Area Sierra Leone
$21,364 raised of $30,000 goal
 
170 donations
$8,636 to go
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