The countries in the Mano River Region, which include Sierra Leone and the Ivory Coast as well as Li-beria, are part of the regional conflict system. Decades of violence, revolts and political instability have domi-nated the region. All these conflicts have been marked by high levels of sexualised violence. Gender-based violence remains widespread. While perpetrators are rarely punished, survivors have little access to support and protection and are also often stigmatised.
Numerous women’s organisations in the Mano River Region are campaigning for the rights and protection of women and girls. To support their work, medica mondiale decided to extend its partner network.
The longest partnership is with medica Liberia, which has been funded by medica mondiale since 2006 and is working for women and girls since 2015 as an independent and now largest and most well-known women's rights organization in Liberia in the southeast and the capital region.
Since 2018, various projects in Sierra Leone and Côte d'Ivoire are promoted and interconnected. By establishing networks, women can increase their political influence and change their societies sustainably.
Liberia – sexualised violence as legacy of the civil war
First, there were 14 years of civil war, then in 2014, the Ebola epidemic and since 2020 the ongoing Corona crisis – 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. Sexualised violence was carried out by all sides in the conflict in Liberia.
- An estimated 40 per cent of the 53,000 combatants in Liberia 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: According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) three out of five young women in Liberia are mothers at the age of 19.
- 38.5 percent of women and girls between the age of 15 and 39 are according to the UN development report affected by intimate partner violence. Laws to protect women from gender-based violence do exist, but their implementation is often marred by corruption and latitude. A national bill against domestic violence has been in place since 2017, but passages on female genital mutilation were removed before it was passed.
Sierra Leone – Female genital mutilation and limited access to education
- In Sierra Leone, female genital cutting is very widespread. It is accepted as a common practice and is publicly supported as part of the patriarchal culture. More than 86 percent of the women between the age of 15 and 49 in Sierra Leone have been circumcised.
- The literacy rate of women and girls over the age of 15 lies at 12.9 percent. For men it is 29.9 percent.
- A law introduced in 2015 prohibits pregnant girls from going to school. Although the law is unconstitutional, it affects one-third of girls under 18 years. Almost 40 percent of girls under the age of 18 are married.
- Almost 50 percent of women between the ages of 15 and 49 have experienced physical or sexualised violence by their partner. Domestic violence is a criminal offence, but it is rarely reported for fear of stigmatisation and retribution. Sexualised violence is also criminalised and is increasingly reported, but perpetrators are rarely sentenced due to inefficiency and corruption.
Ivory Coast – Stigmatization after rape and illegal circumcision
- Female genital mutilation is prohibitted since 1998, but the prohibition is not actively enforced and female genital mutilation continues secretly. 37 percent of women between the ages of 15 and 49 are affected according to Terre des Femmes.
- Rape is prohibited by law, but those affected are often urged to refrain from criminal proceedings and find an "amicable" solution with the perpetrator. Moreover survivors of sexualized violence are stigmatized and often declared guilty, isolated and outlawed after being raped.
- According to the UN Development Report almost 26 percent of women between the ages of 15 and 49 experienced violence by a partner. There is no law prohibiting domestic violence. Due to fear of stigmatisation and pressure from their social environment, those affected usually remain silent about the violence inflicted on them.
(Last updated: 2020)
520 girls in 2019 were active in the medica Liberia Girls Clubs. The participants shared their knowledge on their rights, sexuality and health with their peers.
51 activists benefited from training on the organisation of events and public awareness work (SASA!)
Liberia: Medica Liberia, Rising Youth Mentorship Initiative, ADWANGA, Liberian Feminist Forum
Ivory Coast: CEF-CI, WANEP-CI
Sierra Leone: Choices and Voices Foundation, WEAP, Girl 2 Girl, Action Pro
Project regions: Grand Gedeh County, Sinoe County, Montserrado and Margibi Counties (Monrovia), Nimba and Lofa County
Ivory Coast: Abobo (Abidjan) and Niakara district
Sierra Leone: Freetown, Bo District, Pujehun District, Kenema und Kailahun District
- trauma-sensitive and gender-specific approaches in the field of psychosocial work
- health care work, legal advice and economical support for survivors of sexualised violence
- further training for governmental institutions and agencies on provision of support to survivors
- enhancing community-based structures against gender-specific violence
- empowerment group offers for girls
Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ)
Kreditanstalt für Wiederaufbau (KfW)
Fondation Pro Victimis
Anne-Marie Schindler Foundation
Source: annual report 2019
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 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 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 the organisations women’s centre in Fish Town, rape survivors can find temporary refuge in its shelter.
In the ivory coast medica mondiale is running a project with the “West African Network for Peace” to build “peace huts”. In these huts, qualified members of staff provide counselling for survivors of sexualised violence.
Awareness raising and education about violence against women
medica Liberia's goal is to draw attention to the precarious situation of Liberian women.
In order to encourage village populations to accept responsibility for protecting women, medica 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 villagers. Men are deliberately targeted and trained as „change agents” working for a better position of women and girls.
In 2018, medica Liberia, together with the Liberian Feminist Forum, initiated one of the biggest protest marches in the country in the face of sexualised assaults on schoolgirls and addressed the population with an awareness-raising campaign using the motto #weareunprotected.
In addition, medica Liberia 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 order to bring about far-reaching improvements in Liberia, medica Liberia is also active at the political level. In the capital, Monrovia, medica Liberia works together with other organisations and the Gender and Justice Ministries on fundamental policy issues regarding the situation of women in the country. medica 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.
A project in the Ivory Coast, implemented in co-operation with the “Women’s Centre for Democracy and Human Rights”, focuses on combatting female genital mutilation and the forced marriage of underage girls.
With its support of women's rights organisations in Liberia, the Ivory Cost, and Sierra Leone, medica mondiale wants to establish more spaces where the partners can network with each other. This is aimed at strengthening women's rights work in the region as a whole.
(Status of: 2019)