Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

Women War Survivors of the 1989-2003 Conflict in Liberia: The Impact of Sexual and Gender-Based Violence

Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

Women War Survivors of the 1989-2003 Conflict in Liberia: The Impact of Sexual and Gender-Based Violence

Article excerpt

Abstract

This article presents a summary of the qualitative data from research carried out in post-conflict Liberia by Isis-WICCE, a women's international non-government organisation, in conjunction with the Ministry of Gender and Development of Liberia and Women in Peace-building Network, WIPNET. Analysis of research findings detail women's experiences of conflict and the serious effects of sexual violence and torture on their physical and psychological health. The paper also describes the omission of women from justice and rehabilitation processes. In support of women participants' views, the author's recommend that funding is urgently required for the provision of holistic and sustainable, gender- sensitive services. Additional recommendations are made with respect to health, justice and policy changes in line with enhancing women survivor's roles and utilising their skills and resilience.

Keywords: Women, War, Liberia, Sexual, Gender-Based Violence

Introduction and Setting of Context

We must address the social consequences of the war, including gender-based violence, which continues to permeate Liberian society today. (Republic of Liberia, 2008b)

The Liberian conflict descended into civil war by 1989. Without the intervention of Nigerian led forces the Charles Taylor's rebels would have taken Monrovia. Subsequently, however, Taylor won the presidential elections in 1997. Almost immediately other rebel groups formed and closed in on the capital. At the intervention of international community a Comprehensive Peace Agreement was reached in 2003 and the UN organised a Mission to Liberia (UNMIL) to support the peace process, sending 15,000 troops. Presidential elections in November 2005 brought the first ever elected woman head of state in Africa, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

The fourteen years of armed conflict saw not only the destruction of Liberia's social and economic infrastructure, but high levels of brutality by all factions. These included widespread killings, rape, sexual assault, abduction, torture, forced labour, recruitment of child soldiers. As a result related of their experiences of violence and torture during the conflict the population is suffering from a wide range of psychological, alcohol/drug related addiction, surgical problems and for women, urgent gynaecological problems. Yet the broken down health system of Liberia struggles to respond to the needs of survivors of sexual abuse. There are few health centres or adequately trained and employed health workers to deal with the overwhelming levels of health needs.

Another major challenge has been to create an environment secure from crime. Gendered crime, such as rape and domestic violence has escalated since the ending of the war and coerced prostitution and trafficking is widespread. This may partly reflect that women are more willing to report crimes. However, by and large Liberia's citizens are not being protected from crime or having it successfully investigated and prosecuted by the state policing agencies.

In 2006, the government of Liberia launched a national action plan to prevent and respond to violence against women. It included plans to strengthen the justice system and facilitate health care for survivors of sexual violence. In terms of legislation, the definition of rape was expanded. Further, the age of consent was raised to 18 years old; nevertheless perpetrators are still hardly ever convicted. Part of the problem is the failure to report incidents due to shame, fear of rejection and lack of confidence that the 'system' will protect the rights of women. The lack of justice structures for dealing with these crimes outside of Monrovia remains very weak and cases tend to be resolved through cultural processes, often to women's disadvantage.

Liberia was the first country to launch its National Action Plan for the implementation of UN Resolution 1325. Its 2009 Plan urges women's equal and full participation as active agents in peace and security (Republic of Liberia, 2009a). …

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