Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Domestic Violence Addressed in Sierra Leone

A friend of mine, Alyson Zureick, is over in Sierra Leone working with a nonprofit group there. Today she had a really interesting blog post about a package of three gender-related bills that have been passed into law, giving legal protections to women in family-related situations. The key component of this law was the Domestic Violence Act. Prior to the passage of this law, Alyson explains, it was technically legal for a husband to abuse his wife. Although Sierra Leone had implemented family support units within the police force in 2001, this law finally criminalizes domestic violence and marital rape.

Alyson explains that the challenges of implementing this project will be complicated, espeically because the Ministry of Social Welfare, the government institution responsible for implementing and enforcing these gender-related acts, is stretched thin, it "has the largest portfolio of any government department but the smallest budget." In 2006, Alyson says, the ministry had a total budget of half a million US dollars. That's less than 10 percent of the country's gross domestic product.

It's really easy for us to forget all the legal protections we have in place for women in the United States that are totally lacking in developing countries. Some of the first wave feminists worked hard to establish divorce rights, retention of children after the dissolution of a marriage, and the criminalization of domestic violence. These are often hard-fought battles that deserve attention and support.

Cross-posted at campusprogress.org/blog.

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