News / Africa

Song Promotes Human Rights Day in Sierra Leone

December 10 is International Human Rights Day. The U.N. General Assembly adopted the date in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In Sierra Leone, one non-governmental organization called Advocaid is getting creative and using the date to launch a new song, meant to educate women about their rights.

A catchy upbeat tune is playing for the first time across the nation today, and there is a strong message behind it. The song, called Nar Yu Right,  focuses on explaining to women about their legal rights, such as not to sign anything that they do not understand when taken into police custody or that they are innocent until proven guilty.

Well-known Sierra Leoneon hip hop artist Star Zee sings the song. The concept for it came from Advocaid. The group provides education and reintegration for female detainees and their children and offers free legal aid to women who cannot afford a lawyer.

Many times, women are put in jail even though they are innocent.

Defending rights

One woman who Advocaid has helped spoke in her native Krio language and explained that she was accused of murdering her boyfriend, when in fact he died due to an accident.

Sonia Osho-Williams, a program officer with Advocaid, said, many times women are too afraid to speak out and seek help, especially women working in the commercial sex trade industry.

"So these women sometimes feel they do not have a voice and they are incredibly scared of actually going to police because they feel marginalized and that no one is there to support them because they are stereotyped, victimized, discriminated against," she said.

Many women the organization works with also are in jail after defending themselves in a domestic abuse situation.

"When you hear some of these stories about these women, a lot of them are victims of domestic violence, a lot of them are victims of gender-based violence. A lot of them, it's as a result of retaliating or self-defense that they become perpetrators, become in conflict with the law," said Osho-Williams.

Gender violence

Leading up to International Human Rights Day are 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence. This is an international campaign to raise awareness about violence against women and take action to eradicate it. It began November 25 and ends on International Human Rights Day.

A 2013 World Health Organization global study says 35 percent of women around the world have experienced either physical or sexual violence.

Osho-Williams said the Nar Yu Right music video was shot in a female prison in Freetown and the prisoners loved it while learning more about their rights.

Prioritizing education

Charles Vandi is the director of Gender Affairs at the Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender and Children's Affairs. He said the government is taking steps to educate men about domestic violence. A new program called Fine Sierra Leone attempts to reach out to men and boys across the country.

"For instance, if you get to these men and boys who are the likelihood source of perpetrating gender-based violence, you need to educate them what is gender-based violence. What are the forms, types, consequences, effects of gender-based violence then they realize and figure, oh, I am in that bracket," said Vandi.

Vandi added that Sierra Leone has passed several laws over the years to help women when it comes to human rights such as the Sexual Offenses Act. The law raised the minimum jail sentence for gender-based violence from two years to a five-to-15.

The law, passed last year, also prohibits forced sex in a marriage and cases being held out of court.

As for the song being played, women who have received help from Advocaid say they believe it can make a difference, and they hope that it will help others so they do not have to go through the same experience.

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