WAVE: Trailblazing transitional justice interventions for women victims and survivors in The Gambia

The Women’s Association for Victims’ Empowerment (WAVE) is a women-led organization based in The Gambia. WAVE’s mission is to empower women and girls who have experienced various forms of abuse and violations including sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV), with the aim of promoting healing, rehabilitation, and reintegration into society following Yahya Jammeh’s 22 years of dictatorship. WAVE has partnered with several Gambian and international organizations to advance its mission and goals.

I came to learn about WAVE’s work through my internship with the Africa Transitional Justice Legacy Fund (ATJLF). The ATJLF provides funding and other types of support to survivor-led groups and organizations like WAVE, to enable them implement contextually relevant interventions on transitional justice issues across West Africa. ATJLF has been partnering with WAVE and other women-led groups and organizations in The Gambia for the past three years. The partnership has enabled interns like me to understand how victim-focused initiatives such as WAVE’s, are designed to provide psychosocial support, legal aid, and economic empowerment to survivors of SGBV, as well as advocacy and awareness-raising activities to challenge social norms that perpetuate gender-based violence.

When I was asked to write this article as part of the ATJLF’s intention to showcase some of its women-led grantee-partners, I was given a difficult choice. This was a difficult choice because of the exceptional work being done by other incredible women-led organizations that ATJLF has been working with over the years. But let me outline why I chose WAVE for this article, with the following reasons

Firstly, in my interactions with ATJLF’s staff who deal directly with WAVE, I learned that WAVE’s advocacy efforts focus on advancing women’s rights and gender equality at the national and international levels. From my remote observation and monitoring of their activities, I learned that the organization has been instrumental in pushing for legal reforms to protect women and girls from gender-based violence-in The Gambia.

Additionally, through its psychosocial support programmes, WAVE provides survivors of SGBV with counseling, therapy, and other support services to help them heal from their trauma and rebuild their lives.

WAVE’s Partnership with ATJLF:

WAVE’s partnership with ATJLF is characterized by two project cycles that complement each other. In the first cycle, WAVE received funding that enabled them to work with witch-hunt victims of the Jammeh era. The organization identified, mobilized and provided much needed psychosocial support to victims and survivors of Jammeh’s witch-hunt campaign. This enabled these victims and survivors to exercise their agency and participate in community-level reconciliation and healing processes. The intervention also enabled these survivors and victims to take active roles in advancing social cohesion efforts as part of The Gambia’s transitional justice processes.

Between 2008 and 2009, The Gambia’s former President Yahya Jammeh launched an assault on the rights and dignities of innocent citizens, mostly women, by accusing them of witchcraft. Those accused of being either witches or wizards were forced to drink a herbal concoction. Some died as a result while others survived with visible repercussions (some deformed and living with terminal illnesses) from the concoctions handmade by Jammeh to “cure” them of their witchery.

Through ATJLF funding support, WAVE ensured that the testimonies and stories of people who had been branded as witches were heard and told at the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC) hearings so that the extent of the damage can be seen and felt, to restore broken dignity and to reintegrate them back into the society. WAVE also facilitated women’s support group meetings, which aimed to establish deep discussions about the findings in the Truth Reconciliation and Reparations Commission’s report and provide psychosocial support to women. From reports provided to the ATJLF, the victims who participated in these meetings stated that the exercises brought them mental and physical relief, which in itself is a form of transformative reparation

WAVE prides itself with the category of victims that they support in marginalized communities as a result, they   partnered with ANEKED which is another grantee partner of ATJLF, to disseminate and screen an already produced documentary titled “We Were Accused – Stories to rebuild broken dignity” ( as a community outreach tool to help restore lost dignity, create awareness, build empathy and to break the stigma of Jammeh’s witch hunt victims.

WAVE has been part of the healing process and providing psychosocial support to some victims who felt they could not share their stories but later became willing to engage in the transitional justice initiatives and felt comfortable to share their testimonies with the TRRC during its hearings.

In the bid to get young people involved in transitional justice processes, WAVE undertook a transitional justice sensitization exercise in secondary schools to educate young people on transitional justice issues, recommendations from the TRRC and to champion the “never again” mantra to ensure that the atrocities perpetuated by Jammeh in The Gambia never reoccurs.

The women’s support group meetings aimed to empower women on transitional justice and related themes, and the victims emphasized the need for victim-centered approaches. This focus on women is also reflected in the emphasis on providing access to free healthcare, counseling, and livelihood support for victims of sexual violence, who have suffered physically, mentally, and emotionally and continue to suffer from stigma in the community.

The second project partnership built on the previous one’s objective to advance social cohesion by identifying and working with another marginalized group of people in The Gambia. Residents of Kerr Mot Ali are followers of the religious sect founded by Serign Ndigal, who were forced into exile in Senegal during the Yahya Jammeh era. When President Adama Barrow assumed power, the group took their case to the Banjul High Court claiming that they have a right to return to their land and judgment was given in their favor. Despite the favorable judgment, they have still not been able to fully actualize this right. Aside the advocacy to ensure that the people of Kerr Mot Ali return to their original settlement, WAVE took the initiative of helping enroll 11 students from this region in schools because they were hitherto prevented from having access to social services like schools and hospitals. It is laudable to note that WAVE’s project facilitated the enrollment of these children in schools, something which had not been attained in for past 14 years.

Finally, through funding from ATJLF, WAVE is leading an advocacy discourse after the publication of the White Paper to ensure that the recommendations from the TRRC are implemented and victims are not forgotten.

In conclusion, the work of WAVE using the witch-hunt victims and the Kerr Mot Ali residents as case study, has demonstrated the power of community-led initiatives and the importance of a victim-centered approach to transitional justice. It highlights the importance of listening to the perspectives of victims and communities, empowering women, and providing access to psychosocial and material support for victims. Furthermore, it underscores the need for governments to act on their commitments to uphold human rights, implement recommendations, and ensure justice and reparations for victims.

Author: Lamisi Anaba

Lamisi is a bilingual student leader interested in the involvement and inclusion of youth, women and children. Her passion is fuelled by six years of experience in student leadership and activism, women’s empowerment, youth development and volunteerism. She’s a member of Rotary International and lives by the mantra of “Service above self”. She is currently serving as an intern with ATJLF.

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