Human Rights Watch, the United Nations Development Fund for Women, scholars of conflict and violence, activists and humanitarians insist that women are more severely affected by violence and displacement than men. They also stress that it is important to go beyond the victimization to ferreting out, deccribing, assessing and publicizing the contributions of women to peace and reconstruction. This study is framed by this approach. Specifically, it looks at internally displaced women who, as a result of Sierra Leone’s decade-long war, fled to the capital city of Freetown, and refugee women who crossed international borders and settled in Europe (London) and North America (Atlanta). How did these women contribute to rebuilding and maintaining communities in new homelands? The roles of government and non-governmental agencies in resettling individuals and families are often well documented and, thus, more easily recognizable. However, cooperating with these agencies and working independently, Sierra Leonean women of diverse ethnicities and classes have contributed assertively to the shaping of their “exile” communities, especially in ensuring that they contain anchors of sustainability.
While acknowledging the women’s multifaceted contributions, this article focuses on three areas: how the women sustain family structures and connections; pursue sustainable livelihoods; and seek out and ensure avenues of education for their children and, in some cases, for themselves. The main thrust is its emphasis on the agency of the women as leaders. Their initiative in redefining gender roles and devising and implementing strategies for cultural and economic sustainability is illustrated by NGO and community institutional records, but mostly by the women’s own oral testimonies from the three locales—Freetown, London and Atlanta.
|Keywords:||Women, Migration, Refugees|
Professor, Department of History, Agnes Scott College, Decatur, Georgia, USA
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