24 November Press Briefing
Yasmina Bouziane, UNMIL Spokesperson; Hon. Andrew G. Tehmeh, Deputy Gender and Development Minister; Ms. Rozanna Schack, Executive Director of THINK (Local NGO); Ms. Madhumita Sarkar, Adviser, UN Joint Programme on Sexual and Gender-Based Violence; and Ms. Carole Doucet, UNMIL Senior Gender Advisor
Yasmina Bouziane (UNMIL Spokesperson)
Good morning ladies and gentlemen of the media; and good morning UNMIL Radio listeners and we are happy to be with you this week for our UNMIL regular press briefing. Today’s briefing will highlight the significance of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence spanning the period: 25 November to 10 December 2010. The 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence is an international campaign to help raise awareness about gender violence and highlight its effects on women globally.
The Secretary-General of the United Nations will have a special MESSAGE ON THE INTERNATIONAL DAY FOR THE ELIMINATION OF VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN tomorrow 25 November 2010. For our UNMIL Radio listeners, you will be able to tune to UNMIL Radio tomorrow and listen to the message in its entirety.
Some key points from the Secretary General’s message are: he is urging all governments, civil society, the corporate sector, individuals to take responsibility for eradicating violence against women and girls, as well as acknowledging the widespread and growing efforts to address this important issue. That no longer is women’s organizations alone. Together all of us men, women, private and public organizations can do our part to fight gender violence.
I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge and thank the Journalists Against Sexual and Gender-Based Violence present with us here today in this briefing your work in this domain and support is very important thank you for being here with us at the UNMIL press briefing.
Here in Liberia, the 16 Days of Activism have been celebrated in 2001. This celebration has been taking place under the auspices of the Ministry of Gender and Development, including a number of local and international partners, with a variety of activities throughout Liberia’s 15 counties.
This year’s launch of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence officially kicks-off on tomorrow, Thursday, 25 November, with the national theme: “Act Now!!! Stop Violence Against Women, and it will take place at the Samuel K. Doe Sports Complex Gymnasium in Paynesville. In conjunction is the launch of the Anti-rape Campaign which contains a number of activities to which national and international actors are contributing, including UNMIL with community awareness programmes such as radio programmes, community and professional training in the matter and related areas, sports events and the very popular Star is Born Talent Hunt.
Today as a precursor to the event, we are pleased to have four personalities here with us who will talk to us about this important event and the number of activities being undertaken around the issue of Gender-Based Violence, as well as the unfortunate and devastating effects these acts have on our society today.
We have with us Hon. Andrew Tehmeh, Deputy Gender and Development Minister for the Government of Liberia who will talk to you on activities being undertaken by the Government of Liberia and other organizations in support of the 16 Days of Activism. Welcome Mr. Deputy Minister.
Also with us is Ms. Rozanna Schaack, Executive Director of the local NGO, Touching Humanity In Need of Kindness (THINK) Inc. Ms. Schaack is also a professional nurse with special expertise in Gender-Based Violence and Child Protection.
To her right is Ms. Madhumita Sarka who is currently the UN Advisor to the Joint Programme on Sexual and Gender- Based Violence (SGBV) in Liberia and she will speak to us on the impact of gender violence on society.
Lastly, we have with us Ms. Carole Doucet, UNMIL Senior Gender Advisor. Ms. Doucet will be briefing us on UNMIL’s contribution to the campaign in support of the 16 Days of Activism and the importance of the anti-rape campaign.
Hon. Andrew Tehmeh (Deputy Gender and Development Minister)
I want to say thank you to you journalists for coming here and for all the efforts you are making to create awareness on Gender based violence. Actually this celebration starts tomorrow and tomorrow’s programme will begin with a parade and that parade starts from at the SKD Boulevard. We will parade to the SKD Complex. At the complex, two things will be happening: 1. we are going to be launching officially the 16 Days of Activism. Our goal is creating awareness against gender-based violence and the second goal is create structure and strengthen these structures at the community level that is going to address and respond to gender-based violence. The President of the Republic of Liberia is going to launch the second phase of the anti rape campaign.
A massive awareness and sensitization campaign will be carried out from 25 November to 10 December 2010 in communities and schools throughout the country to educate the public on the effects of violence against women and the society. A two-week community training in Gender-Based Violence (GBV) prevention will be conducted for community structures to strengthen their participation in the prevention of GBV in selected communities where violence is very high. A two-day workshop on rolling back militarism and inspiring more ideas about genuine security held with military personnel at the Edward Kesselley Military Barracks. The media will be fully engaged in this year’s 16 Days Activism throughout the country.
The major activities or days within the 16 days are: 25 November is International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women; 29 November will be International Women Human Rights Defenders Day; 1 December is World Aids Days; 3 December is International Day of Disabled Persons; 6 December is the Anniversary of the Montreal Massacre; and on 10 December is the International Human Rights Day which is symbolically linking women’s rights to human rights.
At the same time we are going to this launch at the country level. What is more important is that we want to make sure that at the county level preparation is to the point that the counties are developing their own plans, messages that they can tailor toward their county’s specifics. We hope that you will continue to support us in taking action against rape because it is everyone’s business.
Ms. Rozanna Schaack (Executive Director of THINK -Local NGO)
I would like to take this opportunity and say it is a pleasure to be here to brief you all on what the NGO Family here in Liberia is doing. We are a national GBV Task Force and THINK is a member of that Task Force. And through that task force we have been able to set up a data base that will report our findings through the Ministry of Gender and Development every month.
When it comes to violence against women and gender-based violence it is an everyday thing for us. But take this 16-day activism to join women around the world to emphasize the seriousness of the effects of violence and raise awareness on the issues of GBV which included domestic violence, sexual exploitation and abuse, rape, trafficking of persons, abandonment, and the like. So that together with our men and boys, we can minimize violence against women and girls.
THINK has been involved with child protection, prevention and response to sexual exploitation and abuse, sexual and gender-based violence with funding from UNFPA, with the provision of clinical management of SGBV and the safe home services for survivors of SGBV. Psychosocial care and support is a very important component on services provided to survivors and their families. We also provide rehabilitation and empowerment. Sometime women and girls feel very powerless when it comes to protecting themselves so take the time to provide vocational skills (skills training) and literacy.
To give you a picture, from 1 January to 21 October 2010 we received 624 survivors at the Duport Road SGBV Clinic. Majority of those are between the ages of 13 and 17 years old. For those who were able to come and seek medical treatment within the first 72 hours, we were able to serve 178 persons who are 28.5%, the post exposure prophylaxis. So we have a lot to do in getting the message out that the sooner you present yourselves to a medical facility after the incident, the better it is for you not to contract HIV/AIDS.
Another constraint we are faced with right now is for people to seek legal redress. We have a rape law in place but for people to really go through the process is what we are trying to let our parents and relatives know. The last is the funding for the existing safe home.
Ms. Madhumita Sarkar (Adviser, UN Joint Programme on Sexual and Gender Based Violence)
Thank you. Based on my experience in Liberia I would like to mention that one of the most common forms of gender-based violence that is reported in Liberia is domestic violence. We do have a high percentage of rape being reported. When we look at the age group of the survivors of rape, it is mainly children. It is important for us to look at it at the individual level; it is impacting on a child, most of these children are between the age group of 10 to 16. When we look at these children, it is directly impacting their health because many of our survivors are not aware that they have to access health services with 72 hours. If they do not, there are consequences of pregnancy, HIV and STDs.
Every child who goes through this trauma of rape needs to have long term counselling. The stigma of rape is high. We find that the family has to often relocate to another location and this means it is also affecting the finances of the family.
On the issue of SEA, it has become a huge problem in our community and school. Where we find as the consequence of it, we are having high teenage pregnancy. Children not ready to have babies, the uterus is not ready and obvious there are several health problems including fistula. What we need to understand is that once a child is pregnant, the other consequence she faces is that she has to drop out of school and this has a long term impact. It does not only impact the individual, but she is not really to stand on her own feet. In addition to that, the family often has to go from the health system, to the psycho-social system, to legal system which it a long traumatic process not only for the family but also for the children.
The message I would really like to convey is that when we look at violence, it is everybody’s responsibility to stop it. It is not only the Ministry’s responsibility, but everybody is to stop violence. This year’s message for the anti rape campaign says: “Don’t Fix The Rape Palava at Home, Report It.” I think the problem is unless rape is reported we will not be able to address the issue.
I would like to also use this opportunity to make a short statement that here in Liberia I would not say that we are not doing anything, but we are taking small steps. A piece of information that I would like to convey through the Ministry of Gender and development and all the Task Force members is we are in the process of revising the national GBV plan of action and we hope to incorporate new strategies because the communities are demanding the services.
Ms. Carole Doucet (UNMIL Senior Gender Advisor)
I will just say a few words of what the UN is doing to support the 16 Days of Activism and the Anti rape Phase II Campaign. We are definitely partners to the Government of Liberia especially with the Ministry of Gender and Development, Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Health and civil society in the plan for the whole campaign.
We are supporting different messages and people who have something to say on this issue will be interviewed to talk about it. These are all in the efforts of raising awareness and more education on the issue of Gender-based Violence and why do we need to stop it. The national partners will come up with different messages to be used throughout the campaigns and there will be the production and dissemination of different materials such as post cards, bracelets, and car stickers.
On 1 December, from 12:00 to 2:00pm in the auditorium of the University of Liberia, we are organizing a discussion which will focus on the global theme: “Structures of Violence, Defining the Intersection of Militarism and Violence Against Women.” We want to bring it down to the people and to the panel. We are going to have people from the security sector, both Liberian and the UN and they will tell us if their institutions promote women’s rights and gender equality.
Lastly, the UN is very much in partnership with the Liberian Government and national partners in planning and supporting the second phase of the Anti rape campaign. And I think the approach is to build on the first phase, but to go deeper into the country and engage everyone.
Q: Cyrus McGill (Kings FM)
On the launch of the Anti-rape Campaign tomorrow, what does this mean for the country at this time and how is this year’s 16 Days of Activism is going to be different the previous ones?
Second, you talked about the media support of the 16 Days of Activism. What is the level of cooperation between UNMIL and the Gender Ministry when it comes to collaboration from the Journalists for Gender and Sexually-based Violence?
A: Hon. Andrew Tehmeh (Deputy Gender and Development Minister)
The Anti-rape Campaign is a campaign intended to create awareness. It is an international campaign, but here in Liberia we are doing a lot of community activities. We will be doing a whole lot of work between tomorrow and the 10 December; we will be working in the communities, the schools creating awareness on SEA that is a major problem in the schools that is leading to huge teenage pregnancy. As a government, this time around our goal is making sure that we create awareness, not only on the national level or the urban areas, but at the community level where most of the rape take place.
In terms of relationship with UNMIL, the Anti rape Campaign group in the media, I think for us as government, we want as many hands as possible that can come on the table to push this issue of rape in our society. So anyone that has the passion to join us in the fight against Gender-based Violence, you are welcome to join us.
Q: Festus Poquie (New Democrat newspaper)
Your emphasis has been on gender-based violence and rape. But what specific effort have you made in addressing the issue of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)?
What is the training for the Military (Armed Forces of Liberia) intended for?
A: Hon. Andrew Tehmeh (Deputy Gender and Development Minister)
The training for the Military is to erase the idea that we can solve our problems through warfare. It is to expand the idea that we can live in a peaceful and secure society; that women will not be victimized. The focus of the workshop will be mainly on how one can secure the peace, expanding the peace beyond the Military with the goal of avoiding war.
In terms of FGM, there are international conventions that we have signed, especially all forms of discrimination against women. Liberia submitted her first report last year and one of the recommendations that came out of that is that Liberia needs to report as early as possible on FGM. When the Justice Minister was in Geneva, the issue of FGM was high on the agenda. In Liberia, it is a tough thing. The Government’s position is: let us do it. What we have asked from the international community is to make laws for the abolition of FGM. In Liberia, it is a sensitive issue. I will refer to Mama Tumah village as an example. The village was practicing FGM. We provided other alternative, economy opportunity for her and for those who were involved. Today, there is an elementary school there now. We believe that when you provide alternative for people for empowerment, then the issue of FGM becomes minimal.
Ms. Madhumita Sarkar (Adviser, UN Joint Programme on Sexual and Gender Based Violence)
We are taking small steps with the Ministry of Gender in the lead, with the support of UNICEF and other members. We are coming with the study and what are the acceptable norms in the community. Because even before you can come up with legislation, it is important to get the community perspective. That is the process we have already started in a few counties and in a month’s time, we will give you a broader idea on where we will take from there. Economic empowerment is something which is coming out. If you want to take any step, you have to design a programme which will look at economic empowerment.
Ms. Carole Doucet, UNMIL Senior Gender Advisor
Eight or 10 civil society organizations from Liberia have come together along with the national organization that has been working for years on this issue, have come together and they are trying to develop their strategic plan to see how slowly they can partner with the Ministry of Internal Affairs, ministries of Gender and Development and Health and Social Welfare to see how to go forward in pertinent and effect ways in the country. So civil societies with government are organizing themselves and with time we will hear what they come up with.
Ms. Rozanna Schaack, Executive Director of THINK (Local NGO)
The protection aspect is one of the issues addressed in the children’s act. From the prospective of children, children should not be subjected until they have reached adulthood where they can decide.
Q: Lawrence Fahnbulleh (President, Journalist against Sexual and Gender-based Violence)
My concern has to do with the Police. You have provided training for the Military; but if you look at the constitution, Article 21F, it gives rights to the Police to be the first to investigate. What are some of the mechanism put in place to give training to the Police?
A: Hon. Andrew Tehmeh (Deputy Gender and Development)
We started doing something with the Police. We have not done a lot with the Military, but we have done a whole lot with the Police. At most of our police stations now, we have the Women and Children Protection section. We have been providing training for officers who man that section. The actual challenge in rape cases are the evidences that are needed to get a conviction. If the Police are not trained to collect the evidence that you can produce in court, rape cases will go down the drain and people will go free.