• 21 August 2014

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    Category : Opinion

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    Fighting the taboo of gender violence

    It's not considered a crime in the criminal code, and there's no assistance action protocol. Gender violence in Guinea Conakry is handled like any other violent crime, and only cases of physical violence are contemplated. There is no room for psychological considerations. An approach that comes from the 24 years of rule by the late Lansana Conté and the military regime that succeeded him and held power until 2011. Today this problem seems to be finding its way into the priorities of the current government, which is developing a project funded by the European Commission (EC), in which the FIIAPP is collaborating, to provide assistance to victims of gender violence, strengthen security in the country and improve the public's perception of the national police force.

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    Eighty-seven percent of women in Guinea Conakry, in other words eight in every  ten, suffer conjugal and domestic violence in this African country, according to the results of a survey released by the National Office for the Promotion of Women and Gender. They typically do not report it. These women share a common denominator with other victims of gender violence around the world: a fear of reprisal by their aggressors. To which we might add family involvement in resolution of the conflict, which happens in the specific case of Guinea Conakry, as a complicating factor.

    “When a couple has a problem, it seems like it’s the whole family’s problem. The family gets involved and leans towards reconciliation. When they see that it can’t be solved, instead of reporting it, they go to the figure of the chef de quartier (head of the community). He resolves problems at the community level, and that’s where the majority of gender violence accusations are stopped”, explains Elena González, an expert sent by the FIIAPP to Guinea Conakry to participate on a short-term basis in the EC project with this African country in an effort to reduce this problem.

    González states that the chefs de quartier are very powerful at the community level and that they prefer to solve problems amongst themselves. This circumstance and the population’s mistrust of the police results in, as indicated by the expert, these cases not being reported. The Conté era and the subsequent military regime turned the country’s police into a repressive element in the people’s eyes. In addition, police officers join the force without any prior training, and there are no bodies that control their activity. This has made the country’s security weak and has caused the citizens to mistrust the officers. The project, managed by the FIIAPP in collaboration with the National Police Force and the Civil Guard also aims to improve these aspects. Both institutions assumed responsibility for training local personnel on action protocols for cases of gender violence and control of police activity.

    “The bond between the police and citizens was broken as a result of the years of dictatorship. The current president (Alpha Condé) is looking to democratize the institutions and, within this, democratize the police”, notes Francisco Gaona, Chief Police Inspector, who is participating as an expert in the project.

    Lack of resources

    One of the main problems facing the country in tackling these problems is the lack of resources. “The treatment of victims by the police is the best they can do considering the conditions. They are very sensitized to the victims, but when they want to interview them, they don’t have anywhere to go and have to do it in an office with ten other people… this limits the response of the police, but it’s because they don’t have anything to offer them, comments  Elena González. The lack of computers and even electricity are other deficits. Nevertheless, this doesn’t mean it’s a lost cause. They have NGOs and other services, such as healthcare, for attending to victims of gender violence and thus for forming a network with which to establish an action protocol for these types of cases. “We share our knowledge about gender violence with them, but we rely on their experts to give the specific training with what they have there. And it should be noted that we managed to bring one representative from the Christian community and another from the Muslim one, and they talked about gender violence in relation to religion”, recalls the expert. It must not be forgotten, moreover, that female genital mutilation, declared to be a violation of the human rights of girls and women by the United Nations since its prohibition in 1965, is still practised in the country. The National Office for the Promotion of Women and Gender notes that 95% of the country’s female population has suffered this. This was another issue addressed by the local experts in the training sessions.

    Work was also done with local personnel in the establishment of a Inspectorate-General of Services and a Disciplinary Regime to control police activity in police stations, such as detention times, control of reports and calls, and possible infractions and misconduct by officers. The objective is to guarantee the population compliance with regulations. “The problem is that many officers use the uniform to commit illegal acts to survive such as asking pedestrians for money. Work is being done to eliminate this type of corruption and misconduct”, adds Gaona. In addition, three police stations have been rebuilt to give them better resources for providing assistance. The country is also waiting to approve the development of a police statute establishing requirements for joining the force and wants to reactivate the police academy.

    This is a pilot project in nature and the goal is to extend it throughout the entire country. “The steps are slow, but little by little we are introducing things that in the long term will translate into a better image and a more democratic police force”, concludes Gaona.

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