By Sarata Jabbi
A Gambian lady based in Norway is in the advanced stage of the process of establishing a refuge for victims of abuse and gender-based violence in The Gambia. Ms. Maimuna Sey, who granted Info Digest Network (IDN) an exclusive interview recently, speaks about her passion for the empowerment of women and girls and her motivation for coming up with this initiative:
Info Digest: Who is Maimuna Sey?
M Sey: I am a 43 year old feminist and gender activist born and raised in The Gambia, West Africa. I have always been interested in advocating for empowerment, greater sexual freedom and social justice for women and girls and known for my position in challenging predominant hierarchies and ideologies around sex gender and race.
Info Digest: Tell us about Sheros Home for Women and Girls (aims and objectives)?
M Sey: The Sheros Home for Women is a charitable and non-profit organization in The Gambia.
The organization was registered on December 24th, 2018. I am the founder and Secretary-General in an executive board of four other phenomenal women. The other members of the executive board are Ndey Jobarteh (Norway), Sosseh Elizabeth Banya- Ceesay (England), Fatou Jagne (Senegal/Gambia) and Fatomatta Joof (Gambia/Sweden). These are all Gambian women with vast knowledge and passionately engaged in gender issues and social justice.
Aims and objectives
Reflecting on our motto Walking With You, the Sheros Home for Women was established to provide a temporary safe space for women and their children as well as girls who are already or are at the risk of becoming victims of any form of abuse and violence. A home where women [and their
Children], who have been subjected to violence, find refuge, compassion, resource and assistance.
At Sheros, we create a safe space where women can make decisions about their own lives, heal and free themselves from violence, in essence providing adequate protective and support
services for survivors.
The Sheros Home for Women will also
- raise awareness on all forms of gender based violence
- highlight the consequences of violence on victims and on their children,
- emphasis the importance of reporting all forms of violence and abuse to the relevant persons, authorities and institutions
- promote the rights of women in matters related to violence and abuse
- underscore the obligation of state parties in addressing all forms of gender-based violence in households, relationships, within families and the wider society.
The Sheros Home for Women and Girls will particularly focus on strengthening women’s agency, self-confidence and empowering them to better protect themselves and their families.
Our strategies for action will be adapted to local conditions in the form of action plans, programs and courses focusing on, protection, prevention and raising awareness through partnering and participation.
We believe that empowered women and girls can make a positive difference, not only to their own lives, but also those of their children and the wider community.
Respect and dignity
Respect for the dignity of women and girls is paramount and deeply entrenched in our core beliefs and translated into the services we provide. We express our passion for the rights of women and girls through our communication and activities.
Info Digest: What motivated you to initiate the home?
M Sey: My motivation came first and foremost from my interest in advocating for empowerment, greater sexual freedom and social justice for women and girls.
Violence against women in all its forms is something that am very much concerned about and strongly advocate against. From both my own personal experience and looking around our community back home in The Gambia, I know the importance of creating safe space for women where they could comfortably seek refuge with their children and get the help and assistance they need without being stigmatised. We still live in a society where talking openly about partner abuse is a taboo and women and children are the most affected in these cases, thus the need for more sensitisation and adequate action.
Info Digest: What were the challenges (if any) in setting Sheros Home?
M Sey: Setting up an organisation definitely comes with many challenges, especially when starting something that has not been done before in The Gambian context.
The most challenging at the moment is securing the finance needed to kick start our activities. We have received a lot of equipment from my former employer, the Norwegian People Aid, in the form of beds, refrigerators, furniture, electrical appliances, office equipment, recreational materials for women and children, you name it, all what is needed in setting up and running such a shelter. Two full container loads have already been shipped to The Gambia and expected to arrive in June/July. This comes with its cost and we are trying to raise funds to cover the cost of shipping. We have set up a Gofund me account and would appreciate any amount .See link below:
Info Digest: So far what is the reaction of the Gambian community to the setting up of the home?
M Sey: The feedback and reaction from the Gambian community has been very positive, both back home and in the diaspora. I would like to mention that the shelter is not up and running at the moment. We are still at the setting up stage and most of our activities have been focused on shipping the equipment to The Gambia, fundraising and finalising arrangements with donors and partners.
We have been very active on social media as a way of updating people on our activities and have gotten a lot of support from both Gambians and non-Gambians. The response has been very positive and we are grateful for that.
Info Digest: Since inception has anyone approach you for advice or support?
M Sey: The shelter is not yet operational but we sometimes receive calls from Gambia, from people in situations where they need advice. So yes, we have had some consultations with women at times where we use our expertise to give advice and guidance and sometimes link with institutions that are in a better position to assist and give services in The Gambia.
Info Digest: As we all know running a charity can be hard talk less of a refuge. What are some of the issues you expect to deal with?
M Sey: Running a Shelter for Women requires more than a setting up a physical building or registering a charity.
Dealing with persons subjected to physical or psychological violence or threats from their family members or former family members requires knowledge and competence. Especially when children are involved. The type of assistance and psycho-social help for victims of domestic violence and their families is variable and complex and might involve many factors and ethical dilemma, especially in a society like ours. I have a long experience of working with women that have been victims of sexual and gender based violence, prostitution, trafficking and vulnerable groups like asylum seekers and minors and this puts me in a better position and equip me with the knowledge and competence of running The Sheros Home. I have very good contact with people in Norway within this field who are also ready to render courses and training for volunteers and staff of the Shelter once we are operational. This type of knowledge transfer will be very central and useful in the running of the Sheros Home. We are 100% dependent on funding and exploring all means of funding both in Africa and Europe
Info Digest: Apart from providing shelter for women, what other services (if any) will Sheros home give to its service users?
M Sey: Our services will include:
- Food, shelter and hygienic supplies
- 24 Hour Crisis line
- Support groups for children
- Resource Centre
- Support and information groups for women and victims
- Community and sensitisation on gender based violence.
Info Digest: How do you see the influence of the shelter on the community in five years time?
M Sey: I think the influence will be very positive. I hope to see a change in perception in our community and more openness and awareness on domestic violence and abuse especially in marriages and within families. We should be able to engage in positive dialogue as a community not only for our own sake but for the shake of our children, the younger generation, both present and future.
Info Digest: Thank you very much for your time.
M Sey: Thank you for having me.