On Saturday President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf grieved for the deaths of millions of women, especially young girls, who have lost their lives as a result of violence perpetrated against them by “vicious men”, with specific emphasis on the case of a 13-year-old girl who died after she was brutally raped.
The President spoke at the official program in commemoration of International Women’s Day at the Antoinette Tubman Stadium (ATS) on Saturday, March 8, which was celebrated under the global theme: “Equality for Women is Progress for All”; while in Liberia the theme was “Mentoring for Transformation.”
The President honored the thousands of women around the world and in Liberia who fall prey to violence and abuse on a daily basis and called for concerted efforts in addressing these issues. President Sirleaf has been sounding the call for greater efforts amongst stakeholders and ordinary Liberians in addressing the menace of rape since the beginning of her presidency.
Dressed in a solemn gray and black suit, President Sirleaf said, “I wear black today out of respect for the memories 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,” she stressed, “I assure you he has been rearrested and she has been fired.”
Recent data has revealed disturbingly high incidences of rape in Liberia, especially of children. In the last two years, the Ministry of Gender and Development reported a total of 2,493 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 /1,348 involved the rape 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, 10 children died as a direct result of being raped. The incidents are on the rise and becoming more brutal.
Foreign Minister Augustine Kpehe Ngafuan, for his part, is demanding for more women presence in the political governance process of the country, something he said should be done constitutionally. In his brief remarks at the occasion, Minister 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— not just celebrate a single day. “We Liberians should be ashamed that out of our 15 counties, we have less than 15 women represented in our Legislature,” he said.
Minister Ngafuan then proposed, like Rwanda and Uganda, each county should have a seat to be competed for exclusively by women.
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 Women’s Day theme other anti-sexual and gender-based violence slogans.
This year’s celebration was held in memory of the deceased UN Women’s Representative in Liberia, Ms. Sheelagh Kathy Mangones, who passed away on February 4, in Nairobi, Kenya following a brief illness.