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14. September 2016

Evaluation for Liberia: Transition needs tenacity and tailor-made measures

In 2013, medica Liberia started a three-year project aiming to achieve long-term improvements in the situation of women and girls in south-eastern Liberia. The intention was to ensure survivors of sexualised violence would experience solidarity and support within their village communities. However, an evaluation has now shown that rigid traditional structures, stigmatisation and the Ebola crisis all made it difficult to achieve the desired impacts.

Sinoe County in south-eastern Liberia is poor. The roads are insufficient, healthcare provision is atrocious, and there are only a few police officers, who cannot ensure law and order. Gender-based violence is widespread. Men keep women under control, with stigmatisation, harassment, beatings and rape part of everyday life for women and girls, whether at school, work, home or within the community. This was the background to a three-year project started in 2013 by medica Liberia: “No to post-war violence against women: Establishing solidarity and protection networks” in 14 village communities in Sinoe County.

The aim of the project was to ensure that survivors of gender-based violence had local contacts to turn to

Within the village communities, contacts would be trained in an approach based on solidarity and awareness of the issues. The project design also included awareness-raising measures for people in the local security and legal sectors on the issues surrounding gender-based violence and current laws and practice relating to women’s rights. Healthcare staff should also be enabled to adopt a trauma-sensitive approach when dealing with women and girls affected by violence. In Spring 2016, two external consultants evaluated the project: Viktoria Perschler-Desai and Sandra Okoed. They visited ten of the 14 communities and held group discussions with Women Support groups, community representatives, male agents of change, Peace Committees and Girls Clubs. They talked to the staff of medica Liberia and to the people participating from the healthcare and legal sectors.

Overcoming and combating painful experiences through solidarity and support

When asked about the most important changes arising out of the work of medica Liberia, one staff member gave the following example:

“This story is about a woman who was abandoned by the father of her child. After the birth, he never returned to their house. Nor did he provide any food or financial support for the child. Living with the baby was very painful for her. Until the day a counsellor from medica Liberia visited her village community, who she asked for advice. She was helped to take legal action, the father of her child was arrested and sentenced to pay maintenance. Since then, her life has taken a turn for the better. Both the woman and her child look healthy.”

In general, the evaluators declared that the project was relevant to counteracting sexualised and gender-based violence. medica Liberia was able to train village counsellors, establish solidarity-based counselling structures, and raise awareness among community members and in the police, legal and healthcare sectors on the issues surrounding sexualised violence and gender justice. However, it could not be established for certain that long-term changes in behaviour have taken place. The recently started door-to-door visits have contacted more survivors and led to more women and girls taking legal action in cases of sexualised violence. However, this only represents the achievement of some of the desired aims.

Difficulties: Ebola, stigmatisation, distrust, poverty & overload

Dealing with trauma, violence and taboos, requires patience, calm and an environment of trust. All of these factors deteriorated significantly during the Ebola epidemic in 2014. The deadly pest brought the project to a halt for almost a year, although the solidarity and support systems that had already been set up within village communities did prove to be very useful for the Ebola preventive measures. Unfortunately, in general there were too few cases where the community counsellors successfully referred women and girls affected by violence directly to healthcare staff, clinics, the police or courts in close vicinity to the communities. Instead, the women were initially referred to the staff of medica Liberia. Factors in play here include the fear of stigmatisation in their immediate surroundings and a lack of confidence in the state systems. One gap in the design of the project identified by the external consultants was the lack of measures to help the women ensure their own livelihood. The fact that the community counsellors were all volunteers was also judged to have possible negative impacts on their motivation and the long-term impacts of the project. The evaluators also judged the number of staff as too low to achieve the stated aims. Furthermore, they also recommended including mentors to provide expert advice to the volunteer counsellors.

Adaptations for the future: cooperation, more staff and simple training materials

The result of the evaluation clearly shows that more effort is still needed and the project has to be continued if long-term positive changes are to be ensured. The external consultants’ other recommendations include increasing cooperation with other partners, for example, in order to realise income-generating support measures. The recommendations to increase the number of staff and support the work of volunteer counsellors with mentors have both already been integrated into the planning for the next phase of the project. The contents of the training concepts for the volunteer and solidarity groups in the local communities are good and they will be simplified for future use, with accompanying picture-based material for practical public awareness work. The greatest challenge remains the development of improved approaches which can help to break down the silence and stigma surrounding sexualised and gender-based violence. Our vision remains a peaceful and non-violent society for women and girls.

Read the short version of this Evaluation Report here