Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea: Internally Displaced Women and Girls in Liberia and Uganda and the Role of the International Community

Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea: Internally Displaced Women and Girls in Liberia and Uganda and the Role of the International Community

Article excerpt


This article provides a brief background on the civil war in Liberia and the ongoing political violence in Uganda that have left thousands of people internally displaced, especially woman and girls. It analyzes the willing and unwilling roles of women and girls in both conflicts as combatants, wives, and rape survivors, etc.. It discusses how women's bodies became an extension of the battlefield as all participants in the conflict perpetrated gross human rights violations against women and girls in the forms of rapes, gang rapes, torture, and beatings. These violations have forced many women and girls, especially in Liberia to seek safety outside their home areas while others fled to camps for the internally displaced. The conflict in Uganda is contained within specific districts in the northern part of the country where the government has established camps. The camps often do not serve as a sanctuary as women and girls face many problems due to overcrowding, gender-based violence, lack of medical facilities, and little economic opportunities. A discussion of the internationalization of the conflict is included for fuller understanding of factors that produced or exacerbated internal displacement. In Liberia, the roles of the Economic Community of West African States' (ECOWAS) military group (ECOMIL), along with the support provided by neighboring countries to different insurgent groups are examined. The internationalization of the conflict in Uganda is analyzed by discussing the role of the governments of the United States and Sudan and their support of Sudanese People's Liberation Army and Lord's Resistance Army respectively. Lastly, the article focuses on the role of women in both countries' peace building efforts.

Keywords: Internally Displaced Women, Liberia, Uganda


Liberia and Uganda have experienced civil wars and political violence that left their economies, political structures, and social institutions in disarray. As both countries attempt to rebuild their societies, Liberia is faced with the daunting problems of reintegrating not only large numbers of refugees, but also large numbers of internally displaced persons, along with ex-combatants--many are children. (approximately 70 percent or 38,000). The article has four goals. First, it provides a background of the factors that produced the violence. Second, it discusses women's roles and how their bodies became a part of the battleground. Third, the article examines the role of the international community and discusses its effects on internally displaced women. Fourth, it discusses the role women played and continue to play in building peace.

Background to the Conflicts

When the National Patriotic Front of Liberation (NPFL), led by Charles Taylor, reentered the Liberia from Cote d'Ivoire in December 1989, it ignited a civil war that brought out various cleavages in society that previous regimes were able to suppress. Civilians were displaced due to fighting between the government and diverse insurgent groups that left hundreds of thousands of people displaced; women and girls were subjected to rape and sexual abuse; women signed up as combatants on all sides, and others tried to survive in displacement camps, their home areas, or other locations inside and outside the country. The internationalization of the conflict in terms of peacekeepers from the Economic Community of West African States' Monitoring Group (ECOMIL), the extension of the conflict into Sierra Leone, the participation of government and insurgent groups in Cote d'Ivoire, Guinea, and Burkina Faso that sided with various Liberian factions and Charles Taylor produced tragic consequences for women and girls as the result of gender-based physical and sexual violence. (2)

The current internally displaced problems in Uganda need to be situated within the country's ethnic and regional cleavages. Added to this are regional factors involving the Sudanese government and the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA). …

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