3 January 2014

Sierra Leone Hip-Hop Video Seeks to Help Female Victims of Wrongful Arrest

With the help of a hip hop video, an NGO in Sierra Leone wants to make sure that women who find themselves in the clutches of the law are fully aware of their rights.

Imagine being sent to jail and not fully understanding why you are there. This happens to many women in Sierra Leone, according to the non-governmental organization Advocaid, which offers legal representation women who cannot afford a lawyer. The NGO also helps former female detainees to reintegrate back into society.

Part of the problem is a lack of information. Advocaid has teamed up with well-known hip hop artist Star Zee to create a song and video aimed at educating women about their legal rights.

The song is called "Nar Yu Right," which means "Know your right" in Krio, one of the local dialects in Sierra Leone.

Star Zee performs "Nar Yu Right" in a female prison in Freetown.

The tune is upbeat and catchy, but it also has a strong message behind it for women in Sierra Leone. It explains to them that they do have rights under the legal system and should be aware of them.

Sonia Osho-Williams is a program officer with Advocaid. She often helps sex trade workers and says they are continuously subjected to wrongful arrest and victimized because they are not fully aware of their legal rights.

"So these women sometimes feel they do not have a voice and they are incredibly scared of actually going to police because they feel marginalized and that no one is there to support them because they are stereotyped, victimized, discriminated against," Osho-Williams told DW.

She says the song is not just for sex trade workers but for all women who may come into conflict with the law. The song contains messages such as 'don't sign anything you don't understand when taken into police custody.' It also points out that the police cannot detain someone for more than 72 hours without charging them, if a serious crime is not involved.

Osho-Williams says Advocaid wanted to find a creative way to educate women and that is why they asked hip-hop artist Star Zee to perform the song and local production company Concept Multimedia to shoot the video inside a female prison.

The reaction was incredible. "The prisoners absolutely loved it, absolutely loved it, they kept asking for more," Osho-Williams said.

Women detainees also feature in the video. They are seen cheering on while Star Zee sings, but wear masks over their faces to hide their identity.

Former detainee wishes the song had been available earlier

Former detainees are hoping this video and song will help other vulnerable women in their dealings with Sierra Leone's legal system.

One woman who declined to be identified explained that she was accused of murdering her boyfriend, when in fact he died in an accident. They had been playing around and he accidentally fell on a pair of scissors. He was taken to hospital but no doctors were around to save him and he bled to death. She was sent to prison for a year and a half. With the help of Advocaid, she was eventually proven innocent and released. She says she would have welcomed a song like "Nar Yu Right" at the time of her arrest so that she could have been more aware of her rights.

Osho-Williams says that many women Advocaid helps landed in jail after having defended themselves against domestic violence.

"When you hear some of these stories about these women, a lot of them are victims of domestic violence, a lot of them are victims of gender-based violence. It's as a result of retaliating or self-defense that they become perpetrators, get into conflict with the law," Osho-Williams said.

Educating men about gender-based violence

The Sierra Leone government says it is aware of the problem of domestic violence and is looking to educate men in its prevention.

Charles Vandi is the director of Gender Affairs at the Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender and Children's Affairs. He says a new program called Fine Sierra Leone works at reaching out to men and boys across the country.

"For instance, if you get to these men and boys who are the likely source of gender-based violence, you need to educate them about it. What are the forms, types, consequences, effects of gender-based violence? Then they realize and figure, 'oh, I am in that bracket,'" said Vandi.

Nar Yu Right is available on iTunes and Amazon and a share of the proceeds will go to Advocaid.

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