President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has frowned upon the increase in the incidences of rape in Liberia in recent times.
Highlighting a recent incident in which a 13-year old girl was raped and her future sacrificed by her grandmother when the offender was released from prison after being arrested, the Liberian leader disclosed that the offender has been rearrested and the grandmother, working in government, has been dismissed.
According to an Executive Mansion release, President Sirleaf was speaking during the official program marking the observance of International Women’s Day at the Antoinette Tubman Stadium (ATS) on Saturday, March 8. This year is being celebrated under the global theme: “Equality for Women is Progress for All”; while in Liberia, the Day is being celebrated under the theme: “Mentoring for Transformation.”
Dressed in gray and black suit, President Sirleaf mournfully said, “I wear black today to the memory of all the young women whose lives have been taken from them by vicious and violent men. I wear black for the 13-year old girl whose future was sacrificed by her grandmother who compromised rape with an offender by having him taken out of prison when he had been arrested for this vicious act,” stressing, “I assure you he has been rearrested and she has been fired.”
Recent data reveal disturbingly high cases of rape especially rape of children. 1n the last two years, the Ministry of Gender and Development reported a total of 2493 sexual and gender-based violence crimes across Liberia, up from 2029 cases in 2010. A majority of these (58 percent) were rape cases, of which 92 percent or 1,348 involved rapes of children between the ages of three months to 17 years.
In the first six months of 2013, four referral hospitals in Monrovia alone treated 814 rape cases, 95 percent of which were children. In 2012, a total of five child deaths were recorded as a result of rape. In 2013, ten children died as a direct result of being raped. The incidents are rising and becoming more brutal.
In the Keynote Address, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of Liberia, Her Honor Jamesetta Wolokollie, argued that Liberian women must see that the call for equality must be a personal fight since it involves their wellbeing and that of their children.
“They must not just sit there passing the buck on to males to pull them up,” she said, adding that the idea of their wellbeing and that of their children being linked to men and the success of these men must be disabused.
She said only if our women who spent all the time in church, praying to God to send them a husband to improve their lives could spend half of this time going to school, fighting to achieve higher education or getting involved in some meaningful training that would better their lives, great transformation would come to Liberia.
Associate Justice Wolokollie stressed that women’s strive for equality and advancement must begin with their will and desire to first pull themselves up.
“Look women, as long as we remain sitting, doubting our ability to work alongside our male counterparts, and relying on men to provide the impetus for our full participation, our progress and the future of our nation shall remain dim, and we shall go every year to the UN making some glossy report on women's development which is not seen or translated to our society,” she predicted.
Making remarks earlier, the Senate President Pro Tempore, Senator Gbehzongar Findley, promised to work with the women to transform the Liberian society. “We will work along with the women, we will walk along with the women to ensure that the necessary development that we need in Liberia is achieved.” He urged the women to continue to be critical of the men so as to keep them on their toes to ensure that the necessary transformation is achieved.
In brief remarks, Foreign Minister Augustine Kpehe Ngafuan said as the country is expected to go to a Constitutional referendum next year, there is a need to make some commitments to women's empowerment and not just to celebrate the Day.
“For us in Liberia, we should be ashamed that we have 15 counties but if we check in our Legislature, we have less than 15 women represented,” he said.
Minister Ngafuan then proposed that like Rwanda and Uganda, each county should have a seat to be competed for by women.
The Special Representative of the Secretary-General to Liberia, Madam Karin Landgren read the UN Secretary General’s International Women’s Day Message. In his message, Mr. Ban Ki-moon said highlighting the importance of achieving equality for women and girls is not simply because it is a matter of fairness and fundamental human rights, but because progress in so many other areas depends on it.
“Countries with more gender equality have better economic growth. Companies with more women leaders perform better. Peace agreements that include women are more durable. Parliaments with more women enact more legislation on key social issues such as health, education, anti-discrimination and child support,” Mr. Ban said, adding that the evidence is clear: equality for women means progress for all.
This year’s celebration was held in memory of UN Women’s Representative in Liberia, Ms. Sheelagh Kathy Mangones (1954-2014), who passed away on February 4, in Nairobi, Kenya following a brief illness.
Before the official program, women from all sectors of society converged at the Centennial Memorial Pavilion and marched through the principal streets of Monrovia to the ATS exhibiting banners with this year’s theme other anti-sexual- and gender-based violence slogans.
International Women’s Day is usually a time women reflect on progress made, to call for change and to celebrate acts of courage and determination by ordinary women who have played an extraordinary role in the history of their countries.
In 1975, during International Women’s Year, the United Nations began celebrating March 8 as International Women’s Day. Two years later, in December 1977, the General Assembly adopted a resolution proclaiming a United Nations Day for Women’s Rights and International Peace to be observed on any day of the year by Member States, in accordance with their historical and national traditions.