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West Africa

Women and Post-Conflict Society in Sierra-Leone


McFerson, Hazel. 2011. "Women and Post-Conflict Society in Sierra-Leone." Journal of International Women’s Studies 12 (4): 127-147.

Author: Hazel McFerson


Gender inequality in Sierra Leone, after colonialism among the worst in Sub-Saharan Africa, has been heightened further by the civil war of 1992-2002—which was related in part to the struggle for control of "blood diamonds" but also to long-standing social and regional disparities, and to the collapse of formal institutions and widespread corruption. Sierra Leonean women are today among the most marginalized in the world, socially, economically and politically. However, there are differences among three groups: the better educated, comparatively richer "Krios" (descendants of the original freed slaves); relatively enlightened tribes; and the more traditional patriarchal tribes. The main route to improving the status of Sierra Leonean women is political empowerment. Some progress has been made since the civil war, post-conflict reconstruction programs and donor pressure are also opening up new opportunities for women progress, and there are hopes of significant electoral gains for women in the 2012 elections, inspired by the promising developments in neighboring post-conflict Liberia (which in 2005 elected Africa‘s first female president).  However, sustainable advancement depends on alliances whereby the better-educated urban women exert pressure for solving concrete problems of poorer women in exchange for their political support. Although such alliances are difficult, new grassroots women organizations have achieved positive initial results, which can be consolidated and expanded by appropriate partnership with international women NGOs.

Keywords: gender and development, post-conflict reconstruction, African women


McFerson begins her article with a summary of Sierra Leone’s history, explaining that the country gained its independence in 1961 and is now a constitutional republic. She explains that the country was ravaged by a civil war, which lasted from 1992-2002 and was fueled by competition over natural resources. In the following section, “Ethnicity and society,” McFerson presents the demographics of modern-day Sierra Leone, explaining that “the social structure in the country is in general both patriarchal and patrilineal” (35). Even in the post-colonial era, Sierra Leone has retained its chiefdom governance structure, which the British instituted. While these chiefs have historically repressed women, their increasing difficulty in maintaining control over the state may lead to their cooperation with women’s groups, which would afford women greater levels of political representation.

While the entire country suffers from extreme poverty, poverty levels are highest among Sierra Leonean women, women’s levels of education and literacy are drastically lower than those of men, and because of this lack of literacy, it is difficult for women to enter the official workforce.  Women in Sierra Leone also face extreme health hazards, particularly in childbirth, due to lack of medical resources and facilities. Barriers to women’s health are exacerbated by the traditional beliefs and practices, such as female genital mutilation, which afflicts the majority of Sierra Leonean women and is condoned by the country’s government.

The nation’s traditional, patiarchal culture is the primary reason for the subordinate status of women in Sierra Leone. While Sierra Leone’s Penal Code technically prohibits polygamy, it is allowed in customary marriages. Inheritance, divorce, and citizenship laws also favor men, denying women the economic rights of their male counterparts, and forced marriage is prevalent in Sierra Leonean society. Another issue confronting women in Sierra Leone is their limited property rights. Despite the gender bills passed in 2007, which strove to eradicate gender-based discrimination in ownership of land and inheritance, women still need the consent of their husbands in order to manage her property.  Widows continue to face inequality in their rights to own property; whereas a widower is entitled to the entirety of his deceased wife’s property, a widow may only obtain a portion of her husband’s property. While international institutions, such as the African Development Bank and the World Bank, have promoted economic land rights for women, these laws have not been enforced by the government of Sierra Leone and other African countries.

In her section, “The impact of the civil conflict on women and girls,” McFerson focuses on the 1992-2002 civil war in Sierra Leone, writing that it most directly affected the country’s women and girls, as they were routinely raped and kidnapped as sex slaves during the war. Resultantly, many of the women in Sierra Leone today are suffering from medical issues (due to unrelenting sexual abuse) in addition to social ostracization. The raping of women continues to be prevalent in Sierra Leone even in the post-conflict period, and domestic violence has become ingrained in the nation’s culture.

McFerson concludes her article by assessing the prospects for improving the status of women in Sierra Leone, arguing that the only path to gender equality is women’s political empowerment. While the laws granting women rights (i.e. Security Council Resolution 1325 and the 1995 Charter by the African Commission on Human Rights) have already been written, they much be instituted by the country’s government. She alludes to positive prospects for women’s empowerment, enforced by the 30% quota for women in political office; however, Sierra Leone is still lacking the unity of women’s movements necessary to propel efforts toward gender equality forward. Alliances must be forged between the educated, elite Krio women and other urban women in order to genuinely promote women’s rights. Ultimately, Sierra Leonean women’s poor access to international resources poses a barrier to the efficacy of women NGOs; thus international organizations must reach out to women’s initiatives in Sierra Leone to assist them in their effort to make their voices heard.

Topics: Armed Conflict, Civil Wars, Gender, Women, Peace Processes, Political Participation, Post-Conflict, Post-Conflict Reconstruction Regions: Africa, West Africa Countries: Sierra Leone

Year: 2011

Securitization and Desecuritization: Female Soldiers and the Reconstruction of Women in Post-Conflict Sierra Leone


Mackenzie, Megan. 2009. "Securitization and Desecuritization: Female Soldiers and the Reconstruction of Women in Post-Conflict Sierra Leone." Security Studies 18 (2): 241-61.

Author: Megan Mackenzie


This article focuses on the construction of "soldier" and "victim" by post-conflict programs in Sierra Leone. Focusing on the absence of individual testimonies and interviews that inform representations of women and girls post-conflict, this article demonstrates that the ideal of the female war victim has limited the ways in which female combatants are addressed by disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR) programs in Sierra Leone. It is argued that titles given to female soldiers such as "females associated with the war," "dependents," or "camp followers" reveal the reluctance of reintegration agencies to identify females who participated in war as soldiers. In addition, I argue that men and masculinity are securitized post-conflict while women—even when they act in highly securitized roles such as soldiers—are desecuritized and, in effect, de-emphasized in post-conflict policy making. The impact of this categorization has been that the reintegration process for men has been securitized, or emphasized as an essential element of the transition from war to peace. In contrast, the reintegration process for females has been deemed a social concern and has been moralized as a return to normal.

Keywords: female combatants, reconstruction, recovery, security, insecurity

Topics: Combatants, Female Combatants, DDR, Gender, Women, Masculinity/ies, Military Forces & Armed Groups, Post-Conflict, Post-Conflict Reconstruction Regions: Africa, West Africa Countries: Sierra Leone

Year: 2009

Gender-Sensitive Programme Designe and Planning in Conflict-Affected Situations


El-Bushra, Judy., Asha El-Karib, and Angela Hadjipateras. 2002. Gender-Sensitive Programme Designe and Planning in Conflict-Affected Situations. Nairobi: Agency for Cooperation and Research in Development.

Authors: Judy El-Bushra, Asha El-Karib, Angela Hadjipateras


The project’s goal was to contribute to the reduction of poverty and suffering through enhancing gender-awareness in the design and management of development projects in contexts affected directly or indirectly by conflict. It aimed to achieve this by increasing understanding of the gender dimension of conflict, both for the humanitarian community and for development practitioners. The project ran from April 2000 to December 2001: field research was carried out in Sudan, Somalia, Uganda, Mali and Angola, with complementary desk studies for Eritrea and Rwanda. It builds on ACORD's experience of operating development programmes in conflict-affected areas, and on its research and policy development in the fields of gender analysis and conflict analysis.

Keywords: conflict, humanitarian aid, recovery



“This project sought to address two particular questions, namely how do gender relations change as a result of conflict? and how might conflict itself be fueled by aspects of gender identity? It also examined the strategic and research implications of these findings for project design.” (3)

“ general, changes in gender roles at micro level have not been accompanied by corresponding changes in political or organisational influence.” (4)

“It could be argued that even where gender roles have changed, they have done so in line with existing gender ideologies. In this view, the increase in women’s economic responsibilities results from, rather than challenges, their role as family nurturers.” (5)

“Gender ideologies seem resistant to change even when their outward manifestations are re-ordered. Interventions aiming to take the opportunity of rapid change in conflict and post-conflict situations to encourage transformations in gender relations may therefore be unrealistic. Conflict may create space to make a redefinition of social relations possible, but in so doing it rearranges, adapts or reinforces patriarchal ideologies, rather than fundamentally changing them.” (5)

“...if gender analysis is to ‘dismantle patriarchy’, as one workshop participant put it, it needs to forego a narrow focus on women’s autonomy and instead adopt broader, more inclusive parameters. This would permit context-specific analysis of masculinity alongside femininity, and of the relationship of both to violence and militarisation.” (7)

Topics: Armed Conflict, Development, Economies, Poverty, Gender, Women, Humanitarian Assistance, International Organizations, NGOs, Post-Conflict Reconstruction Regions: Africa, Central Africa, East Africa, Southern Africa, West Africa Countries: Angola, Eritrea, Mali, Rwanda, Somalia, Sudan, Uganda

Year: 2002

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in Asylum Seekers and Refugees from Chechnya, Afghanistan, and West Africa: Gender Differences in Symptomatology and Coping


Renner, Walter, and Ingrid Salem. 2009. "Post-Traumatic Stress in Asylum Seekers and Refugees from Chechnya, Afghanistan, and West Africa: Gender Differences in Symptomatology and Coping." International Journal of Social Psychiatry 55 (2): 99-108.

Authors: Walter Renner, Ingrid Salem


Background: Internationally, a high number of refugees are in need of help as a consequence of post-traumatic stress or acculturation problems.

Aims: The present study investigated the gender-specific requirements for such interventions taking clinical symptoms as well as coping strategies into account. 

Methods: Five psychometric instruments assessing anxiety, depression, posttraumatic stress, somatic symptoms, and social adaptation were administered and semi-structured interviews with n = 150 asylum seekers and refugees from Chechnya, Afghanistan, and West Africa were conducted.

Results: On the level of total test scores, women reported significantly more somatic symptoms than men but there were no further gender differences. On the item level of the questionnaires as well as with respect to the categories obtained from the interview data, marked gender differences were found. Women, as compared to men, reported more somatic symptoms, emotional outbursts, and loss of sexual interest, while men reported detachment. For women, typical coping strategies were concentrating on their children and various indoor activities, while men preferred looking for work and socializing. 

Conclusion: Social psychiatric interventions should take gender-specific symptoms and coping strategies into account. For asylum seekers and refugees, same gender client-therapist dyads and groups are highly recommended.

Keywords: posttraumatic stress disorder, female refugees, male refugees, mental health, anxiety, depression

Topics: Displacement & Migration, Refugees, Gender, Health, Mental Health, PTSD, Trauma Regions: Africa, West Africa, Asia, South Asia, Europe Countries: Afghanistan, Russian Federation

Year: 2009

Sierra Leone's Former Child Soldiers: A Longitudinal Study of Risk, Protective Factors, and Mental Health


Betancourt, Theresa S., Robert T. Brennan, Julia Rubin-Smith, Garrett M. Fitzmaurice, and Stephen E. Gilman. 2010. "Sierra Leone's Former Child Soldiers: A Longitudinal Study of Risk, Protective Factors, and Mental Health." Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry 49 (6): 606-15.

Authors: Theresa S. Betancourt, Robert T. Brennan, Julia Rubin-Smith, Garrett M. Fitzmaurice, Stephen E. Gilman


OBJECTIVE: To investigate the longitudinal course of internalizing and externalizing problems and adaptive/prosocial behaviors among Sierra Leonean former child soldiers and whether postconflict factors contribute to adverse or resilient mental health outcomes.

METHOD: Male and female former child soldiers (N = 260, aged 10 to 17 years at baseline) were recruited from the roster of an non-governmental organization (NGO)-run Interim Care Center in Kono District and interviewed in 2002, 2004, and 2008. The retention rate was 69%. Linear growth models were used to investigate trends related to war and postconflict experiences.

RESULTS: The long-term mental health of former child soldiers was associated with war experiences and postconflict risk factors, which were partly mitigated by postconflict protective factors. Increases in externalizing behavior were associated with killing/injuring others during the war and postconflict stigma, whereas increased community acceptance was associated with decreases in externalizing problems (b = -1.09). High baseline levels of internalizing problems were associated with being raped, whereas increases were associated with younger involvement in armed groups and social and economic hardships. Improvements in internalizing problems were associated with higher levels of community acceptance and increases in community acceptance (b = -0.86). Decreases in adaptive/prosocial behaviors were associated with killing/injuring others during the war and postconflict stigma, but partially mitigated by social support, being in school and increased community acceptance (b = 1.93).

CONCLUSIONS: Psychosocial interventions for former child soldiers may be more effective if they account for postconflict factors in addition to war exposures. Youth with accumulated risk factors, lack of protective factors, and persistent distress should be identified. Sustainable services to promote community acceptance, reduce stigma, and expand social supports and educational access are recommended.

Keywords: child soldiers, mental health

Topics: Age, Youth, Armed Conflict, Combatants, Child Soldiers, Gender, Girls, Boys, Health, Mental Health, Trauma, Military Forces & Armed Groups, NGOs, Post-Conflict, Sexual Violence, Rape, Violence Regions: Africa, West Africa Countries: Sierra Leone

Year: 2010

‘This is the Time to Get in Front’: Changing Roles and Opportunities for Women in Liberia


Fuest, Veronika. 2008. "‘This is the Time to Get in Front’: Changing Roles and Opportunities for Women in Liberia." African Affairs 107 (427): 201-24. doi: 10.1093/afraf/adn003.

Author: Veronika Fuest


Most research on women in war focuses on female losses. This article demonstrates that wars may also bring gains. The scope of political and economic roles that Liberian women perform today appears to be larger than before the war. Both individually and collectively, certain women have gainfully used openings the war provided them. The article discusses the historicity of Liberian gender roles, examining the social subgroups of politicians, businesswomen, women's organizations, employees, and school girls. Changes have also been fostered by the international peace-building and development business. Although the realization of female ambitions seems to be constrained by various institutional and economic factors, Liberia may harbour a unique potential for sustainable shifts in gender roles.

Topics: Gender, Women, Gender Roles, Political Economies, Post-Conflict Regions: Africa, West Africa Countries: Liberia

Year: 2008

The Withering Military in Sub-Saharan Africa: New Roles for the Private Security Industry?


Lock, Peter. 1998. "The Withering Military in Sub-Saharan Africa: New Roles for the Private Security Industry?" Africa Spectrum 33 (2): 135-55.

Author: Peter Lock

Keywords: private security

Topics: Armed Conflict, Military Forces & Armed Groups, Private Military & Security, Security Regions: Africa, Central Africa, East Africa, Southern Africa, West Africa

Year: 1998

The Other Half of Gender: Men's Issues in Development


Bannon, Ian, & Maria Correia. 2006. The Other Half of Gender: Men's Issues in Development. Washington, DC: World Bank Group.

Authors: Ian Bannon, Maria Correia


This book is an attempt to bring the gender and development debate full circle-from a much-needed focus on empowering women to a more comprehensive gender framework that considers gender as a system that affects both women and men. The chapters in this book explore definitions of masculinity and male identities in a variety of social contexts, drawing from experiences in Latin America, the Caribbean and sub-Saharan Africa. It draws on a slowly emerging realization that attaining the vision of gender equality will be difficult, if not impossible, without changing the ways in which masculinities are defined and acted upon. Although changing male gender norms will be a difficult and slow process, we must begin by understanding how versions of masculinities are defined and acted upon. (WorldCat)

Keywords: development, gender norms

Topics: Development, Gender, Women, Men, Masculinity/ies, Gendered Power Relations, Gender Equality/Inequality Regions: Africa, Central Africa, East Africa, Southern Africa, West Africa, Americas, Caribbean countries, Central America, South America

Year: 2006

Women, War and Peace: Pray the Devil Back to Hell

"Pray the Devil Back to Hell chronicles the remarkable story of the courageous Liberian women who came together to end a bloody civil war and bring peace to their shattered country.

Operation Fine Girl: Rape Used as a Weapon of War in Sierra Leone

“'Operation Fine Girl: Rape Used As a Weapon of War in Sierra Leone' looks at the widespread and strategic use of rape and sexual violence against women – many of them young girls and teenagers – during the decade-long civil war in Sierra Leone, the world’s poorest country.


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