Republican News · Thursday 06 July 2000

[An Phoblacht]

A women refugee's thoughts

The conflict in Sierra Leone is one of the best examples of how European economies benefit from war - as both the rebels and the government have traded with diamonds to finance their armies - and of the disinterest of international bodies towards a conflict resolution policy. Mercy Peters is a Sierra Leone journalist. She was forced to flee her country as a refugee due to the political situation. She is now living in a hostel in Donegal town under the Dublin government's direct provision directives. Here, she talks about the circumstances that compel African women to become refugees.

``Mismanagement by successive governments has landed most African countries in the mire they are in today. Unattended and unchecked, this has brought about economic, political and social ills.

The practice of polygamy has its setbacks, which fall mainly on women. Men may be free to find wives they can barely support. At the end of the day, each wife has to look out for her children. That is, their education and welfare. It is common to see women hooking in the streets of Africa in order to provide for their children. Rain or shine, they are out there, the husband and the state caring less. Many children have to do without schooling, due to lack of finances for their school fees.

d as if this was not enough, domestic violence against women has slipped in to become routine. Women are beaten up by their spouses and there is no advocate or challenge on their behalf. Men believe that the woman's place is at the background and thus she is silence to standing up or as it is said, for speaking out of turn. There are hundreds of cases where women have been injured for life through these beatings. Some, pregnant at the time of the abuse, have had painful termination of their pregnancies. Others, not so lucky to go through their pain, have died.

There are also women who had their reproductive organs damaged for life, from blows and kicks aimed to them. Women have lost use of part of their bodies such as eyes, fingers, and limbs from the abuse they get.

Then there are is war, as in my own country. The husbands, the brothers and sons take up arms, get killed and with their deaths increase the number of widows and orphans.

In refugee camps across Africa, women are sexually abused by unscrupulous men. Female circumcision has deep traditional roots. Failure to be circumcised results in the woman being excluded from society or from being recognised as a woman per se. I was blessed to have been born to parents who were enlightened and could not put their children through that hell. The surgeons or the sewers, as we call them, do not use the basic anaesthetic for their patients. Some girls die. Some contract infections that will be with them for life. Some need special attention during childbirth. For many, the removal of that part of their bodies is like the peeling away of their dignity as women.

Little wonder it is that with these demons to conquer, women eventually migrate, often making long and dangerous journeys to the unknown. Journeys in search of sanity, in search of security, in search of better lives for their children, not wanting them to succumb to the fate that was theirs.

The need to preserve and protect drives them to give up the once safety of their homes for the uncertainty of promised and relative security. As a journalist and a woman, I could not cope with the constant disguises employed in moving from one hiding place to another. There was fear from down my guts. The kind that spreads steadily, that keeps you awake and your ears pick out each minute detail of the night sounds. The bullets that fly past and the footsteps of army boots marching the latest victim to his death, not knowing if those foot steps will be coming for you next. Not only is that fear frustrating, it robs you of all beliefs about justice, equality and above all, about freedom.''

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