First, there were 14 years of civil war, and then in 2014, the Ebola epidemic – Liberia is still struggling to return to normality. One legacy of the war – and a problem for society as a whole – is the high level of sexualised violence against women and girls. However, women rarely report having been raped, because they are ashamed and/or afraid of social exclusion. When they do, the perpetrators usually escape punishment. The judiciary is inefficient and corruption widespread. And, on top of all this, there are the misogynist traditions. Most people have no knowledge of existing legislation and there is little acknowledgment that assaults on women amount to serious violations of human rights.
- In Liberia, according to UN estimations at least 40.000 women were raped during the civil war from 1989 until 2003
- Estimates suggest that 50-70 per cent of women have been raped – often this involved gang rape, sexual torture and mutilation. 1 Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces: Sexual violence in armed conflict, 2007 Sexualised violence was carried out by all sides in the conflict.
- In 2003, 74 per cent of respondents in a sample survey of 388 female refugees said they had experienced sexualised violence which had been intended to drive them out of their houses. 55 per cent reported they had experienced sexualised violence during their displacement.
- An estimated 40 per cent of the 53,000 combatants were child soldiers, including about 2,000 girls. Child soldiers were almost always affected by sexual exploitation.
- Psychosocial or medical care is only available for raped women in a tiny minority of cases.
- Teenage pregnancy is a particular problem: nearly one in five young women in Liberia has her first child at the age of 15 to 19.
Since 2006, medica mondiale has been doing work in the structurally weak southeast of Liberia – in a joint project with Deutsche Welthungerhilfe for medical and psychosocial care for Liberian women. The aim is to improve women’s life situation and implement preventive measures to stop violence against women.
(As of 2016)
Project region: Grand Gedeh County, River Gee County, Sinoe County, Montserrado and Marghibi Counties (Monrovia)
Activities & Objectives:
trauma-sensitive and gender-specific approaches in psychosocial work, health care and legal counselling for survivors of sexualised and gender-based violence
education and training of state service providers
Partners: Medica Liberia
Funding: Federal Ministry for Economic Co-operation and Development (BMZ), Kreditanstalt für Wiederaufbau (KfW) / Welthungerhilfe, Fondation Pro Victimis, medicor foundation, Swiss Agency for Development and Co-operation (SDC), Stiftung Anne-Marie Schindler, Donations/own resources
Project expenses 2016: 1.292.265,50 euro
In 2016, Medica Liberia documented more than 460 cases of violence against women and girls in the project areas.
In 142 legal, psychosocial and medical consultations between August and December 2016, women and girls were supported in the new project area in Monrovia.
278 people working for the police, in courts, hospitals and clinics as well as community members received several days of training on the issue of sexualised violence against women, current legislation in Liberia and a trauma-sensitive approach to dealing with those affected by violence.
Source 'facts & figures': annual report 2016
Solidarity network against violence
In remote areas of the South East, most women and girls do not know who they can turn to when they are faced with violence or threats of violence. So medica mondiale Liberia has built up a wide network to provide rapid support and protection to women even in the remotest villages. Volunteers have been trained to be community counsellors for these women. Together with the women seeking help, they consider the options available to deal with a case of rape or violence in the family, and accompany women to hospital, the police or court. The community counsellors also mediate between survivors and their family members. Where appropriate, they involve the village elders in the conflict resolution efforts. In serious cases, the volunteers facilitate contact between the rape survivors and the medica mondiale Liberia team in the county capitals. The women then receive the appropriate psychosocial, legal or medical counselling – seriously injured survivors are accompanied to hospital. In medica mondiale’s women’s centre in Fish Town, rape survivors can find temporary refuge in its shelter.
Awareness raising and education about violence against women
In order to encourage village populations to accept responsibility for protecting women, medica mondiale Liberia organises events in market places, schools and hospital wards to raise awareness of human rights, women’s rights and the issue of sexualised violence. Other awareness campaigns, theatre performances and radio programmes also serve as means to get this information to women and men in the villages. In addition, medica mondiale offers training sessions to the authorities, such as the police, courts, prisons, schools and hospitals. The goal is to raise awareness regarding the issue of violence against women, ensure they know how to use trauma-sensitive working methods, and make it clear that rape is a serious breach of human rights.
In August 2016, Medica Liberia launched a new project aiming to build a “protection network” around the capital, Monrovia, which, over the next three years, seeks to sensitise the population to sexualised violence and provide better protection for women and girls. The involvement of men in the project is intentional. They have set up “watch groups” to provide security in neighbourhoods where there is often no police presence.
Political commitment in Monrovia
In order to bring about far-reaching improvements in Liberia, medica mondiale is also active at the political level. In the capital, Monrovia, medica mondiale works together with other organisations and the Gender and Justice Ministries on fundamental policy issues regarding the situation of women in the country. medica mondiale Liberia is a member of the National Task Force against Sexual and Gender Based Violence and contributed to the development of the domestic violence law and the Liberian National Plan of Action to implement the UN Resolution 1325, designed to integrate women into the peace process.
(status of 2016)