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21. January 2020

Guest contribution by Anusanthee Pillay: Women's participation in peace processes – the example of Liberia

Countless women experienced sexualised violence during the civil wars in Liberia. However, this form of violence against women was not only a result of the war, it was related social structures that existed before the war. Post-war times are now an opportunity to create a system in which women are no longer victims of violence and discrimination.

As was documented in the report by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in Liberia in 2008, women at all levels of Liberian society traditionally have a very limited position. Because of their gender, as well as the ethnicity and the class they belong to, the lives of Liberian women have been determined for decades by oppressive, patriarchal controls surrounding reproduction, mobility and participation in public life. [...]

Women need to be involved in truth-finding processes

We have to start including women as we work to achieve a transformed society where men and women in all their differences can live with one another in peace and harmony. On this basis, the TRC Liberia made a notable attempt to include more women in the truth-finding process. Their brutal stories of murder, torture, sexualised violence and abuse were heard with compassion here. [...] Members of the Commission listened in horror to their stories and asked them what should happen to ensure these things never happen again. To counteract the impression that women are only victims and survivors, it was very important to recognise that women had played many different roles during the conflict. [...] For many women it was the question “kill or be killed?” that prompted them to become soldiers. [...]

Post-war period as an opportunity for change

The women’s stories show how violence against women can begin right from birth: war, conflicts and unrest in society worsen it, but they are not the root cause. The truth of this for women worldwide has been documented extensively. So the resulting question is: “What do we need to do in post-war periods, when there are opportunities for change, to avoid re-establishing a system that turns women and girls into victims of violence and discrimination?”

Although the fight to put an end to violence against women still continues, the example of Liberia is a good model. The international community recognised that the conflict would not have come to an end for a long time without the participation and the involvement of women: the female President and one of the woman activists who took part in the peace campaign were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Although women were not present in the formal procedures during the peace negotiations, they still played an important role. It was this readiness to include women that led to the election of the first female President in Africa.

Liberia's National Action Plan involves women in peacebuilding

Furthermore, Liberia made every effort to implement a National Action Plan, in order to incorporate women sensibly in the continuing promotion of peace and in the prevention programmes of the conflict initiatives. However, the economic implications of the measures and persistent resistance from some parts of society mean these initiatives still have a long way to go. [...]

In order for the peace process to be sustainable and relevant to all, women and girls must take part in all discussions, negotiations and decision-making. [...] The TRC should continue its outreach to the most remote regions in the country and listen to the stories of the women and girls there. This is the only way we can find out directly about their misfortunes and ask them what they need for their future lives. Asking women for comprehensive recommendations and recording their experiences, perspectives and ideas is actually a way of enabling their recognition and their full participation in society.

You can find the full article in our expert brochure (p. 37)

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