‘Sexual Violence Remains a Big Challenge’

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Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, President of the Republic of Liberia.jpg
Former President of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, during her State of the Nation address, delivered on Monday, January 27, noted that sexual violence remains one of the biggest challenges Liberia is faced with.

Since the election of President Sirleaf, her government has worked tirelessly making sure women’s issues are high on the national agenda.

Her leadership has continued to prioritize women’s education, empowerment and leadership in every sector of the country.

With the collaboration of the Ministry of Gender and Development, the government of Liberia has been able to provide basic education for girls and young women; affording them the opportunity to make decisions for a better future.

In addition, women’s groups, organizations and advocates have continued to contribute to women’s empowerment by creating micro-loan schemes, building vocational institutions, and promoting women’s participation in different activities across the nation.

She, however, during her address mentioned that the Agenda for Transformation (Aft) identifies a number of hard hitting issues like gender discrimination, child protection, rights of the disabled, youth empowerment, the environment, HIV/AIDS and labor and employment as social problems still being tackled by government.

The President said the Ministry of Gender and Development is successfully leading the country to achieving Millennium Development Goal Number 3 on gender equality and the empowerment of Women.

She highlighted that out of all rape cases reported from the 15 counties, over 65 percent were children below 14 years.

“Last year 10 children between the ages three and 14 died as a result of rape. It is shameful that this continues to mar the image of our country”, she said.

She said the law that makes rape a non-billable offense has had limited effect because of families of victims, who are easily compromised by the lack of evidence and by sympathetic judges.

In addition, the President said, “I chaired a meeting of women’s leaders and representatives, who are working on a program that will call on religious, traditional and community leaders, parents, teachers, women and youth groups to become agents of change and commit to take action to prevent sexual violence, as this is everyone’s responsibility. We need your support also, to ensure that our children and our women are safe,” she pleaded.

She also noted that the country has continued to do well in the enrollment of girls in primary schools.

President Sirleaf said in response, the Ministry renovated a dormitory, recruited and enrolled 60 vulnerable and underprivileged girls from Grand Cape Mount, Gbarpolu, Bomi and Montserrado Counties’ at Ricks Institute and Bromely Mission to complete their secondary education.

“Furthermore, 125 girls, recruited from Nimba, Lofa, Bong and Grand Bassa are enrolled at the newly renovated Victoria A. Tolbert Girls Hostel in Gbalatuah, Bong County,” the President said.

Madam Sirleaf revealed that the Economic Empowerment of Adolescent Girls and Young Women (EPAG) Project has since 2009, increased employment and incomes among 2,500 adolescent girls and young women between ages 16 to 27 in business development skills and job and life skills in Montserrado and Margibi Counties.

“A third round of training targeting an additional 1,000 adolescent girls and young women is underway in Montserrado, Margibi and Grand Bassa Counties,” she explained.

The President also disclosed that the social cash transfer program, under the social protection component, provided monthly cash transfers to 3,448 households-60 percent of them headed by females- which translate into 14,083 individuals in Bomi and Maryland Counties.

Some 5,162 children are benefiting from education grants or school buses under the program.

“Also, some eight rural women who obtained solar engineering training have used their skills to electrify 171 houses in communities in Grand Bassa, rural Montserrado, Lofa and Grand Cape Mount Counties.

In partnership with Liberia, the Foundation for Women (FFW), a pet program of our Vice president, has since 2007, provided micro loans to more than 10,000 women in 14 of the 15 counties,” she explained.

She said an excellent example of the entrepreneurial spirit of women is the story of Madam Ducas Guannu and Madam Wehyee Paikoa, both of Peace Island, Congo Town.

“These two market women, both in their mid-sixties, have for several years benefited from micro loans offered by FFW-Liberia. They received their first loan of L$6,000 each in 2009.Having successfully paid back all subsequent loans, they received their fourth loans of L$15,000 each in 2011. They then decided on something unique; they formed a partnership whereby the pooled their finances and opened their own business; a mini-store to sell building materials,” the President declared proudly.

In October 2013, when they paid off their sixth loan of L$25,000 each, and were expected to request additional funding, Ducas and Wehyee telling them “We now run our own business; we will manage without the loan”. Their mini-store, whose daily sales cover their family needs and business expansion, cannot compare with bigger stores doing similar business, but we applaud this entrepreneurial spirit, and ask everyone to patronize them by buying from their store”, Madam Sirleaf concluded.

The Daily Observer’s Women’s’ desk applauds the President’s efforts, yet feels more needs to be done by private Liberian citizens to educate the nation’s young girls. It would be a good decision if groups that focus on women’s issues pay attention to girls in rural areas rather than the city.

I say this because women in rural areas are often abused and suffer more violence than girls and young women residing in cities.

It is in such areas where women are subjected to staying at home and taking care of their families. They are often prevented from taking part in family discussions and decision making regarding community issues.

Liberia would be a lovely country if men and women have equal rights and treatment all over the country.

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