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May 24, 2012 / Man in the Mirror

BBC News: Domestic abuse acute in post-war West Africa, report says

22 May 2012 Last updated at 13:14 ET

The plight of wives who suffer abuse from soldiers returning home from conflict in West Africa has been highlighted in a new aid agency report.

The International Rescue Committee says most of the women who have sought help in Liberia, Ivory Coast and Sierra Leone have been assaulted by partners.

It says domestic violence is often not acknowledged in post-conflict settings, and women often choose to stay silent.

Some reports cite women locked in homes that are then set on fire.

‘Horrific stories’

In its agency’s report, the IRC recognises that violence against women is a global problem, but it argues that it has become particularly acute in countries that are emerging from conflict.

The report’s author, Elizabeth Roesch, says there have been reports of women being set on fire in their homes in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Ivory Coast.

“Women having fingers chopped off, women being beaten daily, women being beaten while they were pregnant, and those are really just horrific, unspeakable stories,” Ms Roesch said.

The report says abuses can range from being punched, to rape and attacks with machetes. But it says there can also be emotional and economic abuses – the denial of access to food or money.

Researchers focused on whether the traumatic effects of war sparked the subsequent abuse of soldiers’ spouses, but found the link between war and violence at home was complex.

However, the IRC study found that all women agreed that war had fundamentally changed their role.

Women who participated in the study said they were fully dependent on men before the war, but afterwards many had businesses and could make their own financial decisions.

While many developed countries have established support systems for abuse victims, in West Africa, where basic services are frequently lacking, survivors often have nowhere to go.

Ivory Coast and Liberia have no laws that address domestic violence.

Sierra Leone passed legislation in 2007 that makes domestic violence a criminal offence. But there are still enormous obstacles in the implementation and enforcement of the law, the IRC says.

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