National Campaign Tackles Sexual Violence
"Until September this year, 14-year-old Mary Jean* lived a discreet life at an orphanage near Monrovia, having lost her parents in 2003. The visually-challenged girl now grapples with pregnancy and trauma, the aftermath of rape.
“Two men violated me. They did this severally,” she said. “They threatened to kill me if I disclosed to anyone. But soon the matrons found out I was pregnant.”
Jean currently resides at a safe home operated by a local non-governmental humanitarian organization. She hopes that her abusers will be found and brought to book. News of the arrest of a male linked to her case reminded her of the ordeal. “I want justice. Those who took advantage of my condition need to pay.”
Gender-based violence continues to haunt many women and girls in Liberia. Despite the passing of various laws, cases of violence against women remain alarmingly high. For instance, the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection reports over 380 cases of gender-based violence between April and June this year with over a half of them attributed to rape, over 20 per cent domestic violence, and sexual assault accounting for almost 15 per cent. Ironically, most of these abuses involve close relatives and friends. And half of the cases are from Montserrado County alone.
“Monrovia and its environs are marked as bleeding grounds for sexual violence,” says Siemon Kwein, Assistant Director, Ministry of Gender. “Majority of the victims and survivors are children below 18.”
The Ministry’s Gender-Based Violence Unit (GBV) has embarked on a campaign against sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) in Montserrado County. The campaign targets Molton Corner, VOA Junction, Iron Gate, Banjor, Red Hill Field, Parker Corner and Po River communities, supported by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), UN Women, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL). The United States is providing legal support to the Sex Crime Unit through the Ministry of Justice for the trial of perpetrators. The Ministry of Gender is also collaborating with the National Children and Youth Advisory Board Liberia (NCYAB).
“UNMIL has developed a joint programme on sexual and gender-based violence with the Ministry of Gender. We are also working together in preparation for the 16-days of activism, between 25 November and 10 December to raise awareness about violence against women” says James Mugo Muriithi, Head of UNMIL’s Gender Unit. ”Further, we are supporting the SGBV offices at the county level to make them functional after Ebola. The unit is also taking the campaign to schools, including awareness materials.”
“The ministry employs musical performances, flyers and drama at open markets and entertainment centers to deliver anti-rape messages. The campaign targets youths, community leaders and petty traders,” says Henry B. Garneo, NCYAB Chair.
Rosana Schaack, the Executive Director, Touching Humanity In Need of Kindness says sexual and gender-based violence remains a major threat to the well-being of children. “This crime is shattering children’s future, negatively affecting families and undermining the government’s and our efforts.”
Recently, the Ministry of Gender took the campaign to Brewerville, Montserrado, in collaboration with Humble Youth, Banjor Women for Peace and Parker Corner Youth Association. As a result more people from the community are reporting SGBV cases and shunning practices that put children at risk.
“People came out to listen to the messages. Everywhere we took the message was jam-packed,” says Kwein. “The community members are now taking preventive measures with regards to the movement of their children. Parents are not sending girls out in the evening. If they go to the market, isolated areas, long distances away from home, they are always accompanied, so that they will not be victims of bad guys in the community.”
“We have more indictment of rape and other gender-based violence perpetrators. Before May we only had nine cases reported. But between June and August there were 121 cases,” reveals J. Worlobah Momolu, Human Rights Director at the Ministry of Gender.
*Name changed to protect the subject’s identity.