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The Countess of Wessex in Sierra Leone

**Warning: Please be aware the following post makes references to Sexual and Gender Based Violence as well as rape and war.**

The Countess of Wessex spoke with survivors about their experiences and how it still affects them today. Photo: The Royal Family/PA

The Countess of Wessex is visiting Sierra Leone to continue her work with the Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative (PSVI). Sophie has previously made visits to Kosovo and Kenya to do work with the initiative that she pledged her support to in 2018. During her first day in the country, the Countess visited the Peace Museum and spoke privately with two survivors.

A civil war in the country in 1991 and 1992 led to widespread sexual violence that impacted an estimated 275,000 women. The Countess learnt more about survivors experiences and how those experiences still impact them today. The Peace Museum opened in 2013 and includes memorials to victims, shares the history of the war and includes the peace process. It stands as a permanent national institution dedicated to preserving the truth, honoring victims and ensuring lasting peace.

The Countess of Wessex visited Sierra Leone to learn more about the work being done to prevent Sexual and Gender Based Violence. Photo: The Royal Family/PA

The Countess of Wessex's tour continued with a conversation with female representatives from the security sector. There they discussed the important role women played in bringing peace to the country. Sophie then met with the Vice President of Sierra Leone, Dr Mohamed Juldeh Jalloh and the Minister for Gender and Children's affairs, Ms Manty Tarawalli. The Countess heard about the progress made since the war in National Development and Security. They also discussed the countries current priorities which include supporting survivors and preventing sexual based crimes.

On the second day of the visit, Sophie visited Russell Technical School which benefits from the DFID programme. She was given a tour of the school by the Principal, Mr Joko Venn before giving out solar radios for the students to use for life skills education. The radios are pre-loaded with lessons on reproduction, family planning, and sexual and physical violence in order for students to better identify sexual and gender based violence. The hope is, with more education on these subjects, students will be able to protect themselves and others from this violence.

The Countess of Wessex joined a learning session with student. Photo: The Royal Family/PA

Sophie then joined a learning club session to find out more on how the students are learning about Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV) prevention and gender equality. The U.K. government is working with schools in Sierra Leone to improved education which has included training over 7,000 teachers and distributing over 180,000 menstrual products so that girls can stay in school during their periods. They have also been teaching girls about menstrual health so that they can better take care of themselves and focus more on their education.

The Countess then visited the Tombo Health Clinic which is supported by the U.K. and is working to provide family planning services to women. Over 20% of girls in Sierra Leone between ages 15-19 are pregnant or have had a child and a quarter of women of reproductive age want access to family planning services but currently do not. In the past year the U.K. has helped provide family planning services to over 120,000 adolescent women in Sierra Leone.

The Countess of Wessex met with leaders in government to learn more about the progress that has been made and their priorities moving forward. Photo: The Royal Family/PA

Being able to access family planning services gives women and girls the power to decide who they would like to start a family with, when starting a family would be best for them and how they would like to build or grow their family. Often times when adolescent or young adult women become pregnant they are no longer able to continue their education which bars them from higher level jobs and opportunities later in life. This can often become a cycle with daughters of young mothers following in their mother's footsteps leading to generational cycles that negatively impact women.

Sophie spoke with professionals at Aberdeen Womens Centre. Photo: The Royal Family/PA

The Countess went on to visit Aberdeens Women's Centre, a maternal health hospital. The hospital also supports survivors of gender of sexual based violence including young children. She spoke with hospital staff, volunteers and patients which included young children as well as adult survivors. She learned more about the treatment and support they offer patients and the challenges that they face in bringing perpetrators to justice. Due to stigma in the country several cases continue to go unreported.

Before departing the Countess visited Freetown's King Tom Commonwealth ceremony to lay a wreath to honor those who served during World War I and World War II. xx

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