On November 25, the international community began the 16 days of activism against gender-based violence. As a contribution to this global effort, Tostan organized a set of intervillage meetings in Guinea-Bissau on December 10 and 11 to coincide with the conclusion of the campaign and the commemoration of Human Rights Day.
The meetings were held consecutively in St. Laubé, Pirada and Saré Bacar, Contuboel. The aim of the meetings was to create a platform for Peace and Security Committees (PSC), Coordinators, previous participants of the Community Empowerment Program (CEP), and village chiefs to discuss the status of women since the program started. Their discussions included sharing their experiences in promoting women’s rights in their communities and developing collective action plans in order to extend the campaign to end violence against women and girls beyond the 16 days.
Tombon Coly, Assistant National Coordinator, opened both meetings by conveying a message on the significance of the global campaign to end gender-based violence. Two guest speakers were invited to each event in order to equip the participants with the necessary information regarding the advancements and challenges of women rights in Guinea-Bissau. In Sintcham Laubé, Adurahman Fati, President of the Gabu Regional Court, spoke about the legal mechanisms in Guinea-Bissau that promote women’s rights and protect women from domestic and social violence. Fati highlighted the significance of the Law Against Domestic Violence which is expected to take effect in 2015. The law defines domestic violence as acts that inflict physical, sexual, and/or psychological suffering, as well as direct and indirect forms of economic deprivation. Fati also stressed the need for Tostan’s partner communities to acknowledge physical and psychological violence in order to defend victims who experience emotional abuse at home.
In Saré Bacar, Serifo Sané, Sector Administrator of Contuboel, commended Tostan for assisting and working with the Government of Guinea-Bissau in the regions where the government does not have the resources to implement projects. He pledged to continue working closely with Tostan to ensure that the projected outcomes of each activity are fully realized throughout the course of the program.
Tostan organized three seminars as part of the intervillage meetings to facilitate dialogue between the participants. The seminars were divided according to the role that each of the participants played in their communities. The content of the seminars was tailored for previous participants of the CEP, Peace and Security Committees (PSC), Coordinators, and village chiefs. During the seminars, all the participants engaged in fruitful discussions regarding their successes in the promotion of women’s rights and empowerment, challenges with traditional norms, and shared tangible solutions with their citizens from fellow communities. In Sintcham Laubé, the seminars attracted additional non-CEP participants from neighboring areas. The increase in participants–particularly women and adolescents –demonstrates how quickly Tostan’s organized diffusion activities manage to get the attention of other communities in Guinea-Bissau.
The participants at the seminars generally agreed that since their communities had completed the CEP, they had achieved substantial progress in creating an enabling environment for women to participate in decisions at home, work, and the community. While noting that there are some instances where women continue to face the same human rights challenges in their communities, they reasserted their commitment to strengthen their local governance structures according to their equality for all declarations, which they made at the completion of the CEP.
By the conclusion of the intervillage meetings, the CMCs had agreed to coordinate further organized-diffusion activities and implement a minimum of one village sensitization activity per month to further encourage other communities to enhance the role of women in their community decision-making mechanisms. With the support of the Tostan’s Guinea Bissau National Coordination, the supervisors and the participants had developed detailed action plans on the theme of women’s empowerment in their previous CEP centers and surrounding villages.