In observance of 16 days of activism to eliminate violence against women and girls, hundreds of activists, including men in Monrovia and its environs, yesterday called on the government to ensure that women’s rights are protected.

The 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence (GBV) is an international campaign to challenge violence against women and girls. The campaign runs every year from November 25 – the Elimination of Violence Against Women – to December 10, Human Rights Day.

Mrs. Caroline Bowah-Brown, who read the statement by the women’s group (#WeAreUnprotected), said they commemorate the day because violence against women and girls is prevalent and normalized in the society.

The 16 Days of Activism also includes a “sit-in action” at the Fish Market in Sinkor and will be observed in other parts of the country. Participants were attired completely in black.

Mrs. Brown said the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women, as issued by the UN General Assembly (UNGA) in 1993, defines violence against women as “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.”

Mrs. Brown said the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection (MGCSP)’s GBV Report of 2017 recorded that sexual violence, including rape, accounts for almost 70 percent of all GBV cases.

“From January–September 2018, 1,484 GBV cases were reported, with rape constituting 971 cases, while 877 of those cases were perpetrated against girls below the age of 18. Rape is the single most reported crime in Liberia. Babies as young as six months old have been raped. In 2015, 803 rape cases were reported and only 34 were successfully prosecuted, representing 4%,” she said.

Some of the “WeAareUnprotected” women on the podium yesterday

“We are also aware that these rape cases are a result of stigma and discrimination as well as an ineffective system that frustrates victims, thereby causing many not to report the incident. Another contributing factor is poor health facilities to provide care, a weak justice system, low capacity of police as well as health and court officials, who have the responsibilities for responding to SGBV cases, are often passive in their approach to some of the situations,” Mrs. Brown said.

She said these various forms of violence against women and girls have led to the death of many, while others continue to live with emotional scars. “Severe psychological consequences of rape or other forms of gender-based violence seriously jeopardize women’s well-being, some of which range from feelings of shame and guilt, anxiousness, phobia, insomnia to post traumatic stress syndrome and social withdrawal. The social impact is equally devastating,” Mrs. Brown said.

According to her, survivors are often blamed and stigmatized, and thus have become more vulnerable to acts of violence, with some adverse effects of sexual reproductive consequences that include teenage pregnancy, which can restrict their access to education.

This, Mrs. Brown said, would further affect opportunities for women and their contribution to national development.

She said in terms of governance, women’s participation in politics and national decision making is still low. In 2017, only 163 out of 1,026 (16 per cent) approved candidates were women, including one running for president in a crowded field of over 20 men; and in 2018 only 10 women are in the legislature.

Mrs. Brown added that up to now there is still no justice for Ma Nowai Flomo, the marketeer who was murdered in 1998; travesty of justice in the late Angel Tokpa’s case; 12 women who were publicly humiliated in 2013 for suspected witchcraft activities; the former Equip Country Director David Waines who reportedly raped a 13-year old, who eventually became pregnant and was granted medical leave; a 13-year old who was allegedly raped by her uncle, who was a lawmaker in 2017 were listed among many..

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