By Yusef Taylor, @FlexDan_YT
Think Young Women’s Ms Fatima Jarju has revealed that over 70 victims of Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV) have submitted statements to their organisation and the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC), however only 5 of the victims (women) have testified before the Commission. The TRRC is a Commission enacted by the Gambia’s Parliament to investigate the human rights violations of the previous regime of President Yahya Jammeh and the State.
In an exclusive interview with Gainako, TYW Programs Assistant, Ms Jarju explains some of the challenges that discourage women from speaking publicly against SGBV and the need for the state to take action on perpetrators of SGBV. Speaking about her organisation’s work, Ms Jarju explained how TYW compiled statements of 73 female victims of SGBV, however, only 5 of them testified at the Truth Commission.
Low Turnout of SGBV Victims
Two women who recently testified at the Truth Commission had provided statements to their organisation says Ms Jarju. However, there remains a stark contrast between the number of statements collected (73) and the number of women testifying (5) before the commission.
Asked why the low number of women testifying before the commission Ms Jarju said “it’s the society because most of these women were able to give their statements but the problem is to go out there and testify publicly for people to know what they’ve gone through”.
Describing some of the challenges put forward by women unwilling to testify publicly Ms Jarju says “the moment they [SGBV victims] go out public or dare to speak, people will start pointing fingers at them and especially if they’re victims of sexual and gender-based violence, it’s always an issue. They don’t believe your story. You’re seen as someone who welcomed it or you went there. The questions that people raise are what was she doing there? Why did you wear that clothes? So, this is a concern and this is one of the reasons why these female victims cannot go publicly to testify”.
Another challenge that women who testified at the Truth Commission on SGBV acts meted out on them have to contend with is the impact on the lives of their children. Ms Jarju says women often complained that “if I testify publicly my kids are going to suffer even if I’m not here because people will start narrating stories to my kids, fingers are going to be pointed at them that her mom was raped or this was done to your mom”.
Society Needs to Console SGBV Victims
In her view, the first step is for society to believe in the victims first to encourage them to speak out. “If you believe that this person was raped, you’d be able to talk to the person, console the person to get through what happened. All they have is a society and the family to rely on but if they don’t believe your stories, you have nobody to talk to. This makes victims think if I talk to this person the first thing he or she is going to do is judge me” she said.
Perhaps to demonstrate the impact that family can have Ms Jarju explains how family interference in SGBV cases has resulted in cases being dropped. “In the Gambia, we’re all related indirectly or directly we all know each other… So, for example, if someone is raped and the family of the victim and the perpetrator know each other and they have strong family ties. At the end of the day the case is withdrawn from court” she said.
Turning her attention to the existing laws which impede Justice Ms Jarju says “we all know what the 1997 constitution holds … if at the end of the day, we’re still going to use that constitution and these things are going to be judged based on that I’m sure Amnesty will be given to some of these perpetrators which we are not prepared for … [and] we are not looking forward to”.
Most importantly Ms Jarju stressed that “rape is a crime against humanity and in this country [the Gambia], rape is against the state [and] not against an individual”.
This article is supported by the International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ).