Statement from the Gbowee Peace Foundation Africa
Liberia faces significant challenges in sustaining peace. Violence experienced by women and girls, the absence of gender equality, and the limited role of women in leadership and decision-making are barriers to sustaining peace. Despite the many forms of violence women face in Liberia, they have made tremendous efforts to fight for their rights alongside advocating for the community. During Liberia’s transitional days, Liberian women monitored the peace agreement. They mobilized in huge numbers to ensure that women enrolled to vote in the first post-war election, which led to the election of Africa’s first female president. Recently, Liberian women strategized and influenced the legislative agenda to ensure that laws addressing rape, inheritance, and domestic violence were adopted.
Time and time again, Liberian women have proven to be the country’s movers and shakers, yet their rights and issues are often downplayed. There are limited opportunities for the advancement of gender equality. Rape is on the increase in Liberia. When women dare to challenge the status quo, their lives are threatened, dissuading women’s political participation. We will only achieve sustainable peace if we increase safety for Liberia’s women and children, and Gbowee Peace Foundation Africa (GPFA) is doing this through its Sustain the Peace Project that is funded by the Women Peace & Humanitarian Fund (WPHF).
WPHF is a flexible and rapid financing tool supporting quality interventions to enhance the capacity of local women to prevent conflict, respond to crises and emergencies, and seize key peacebuilding opportunities.
This 18-month project, themed “Mobilizing Liberians to Address Political Violence Against Women,” targets fifteen districts within Montserrado, Grand Gedeh, and Lofa counties. In these three counties, GPFA is mobilizing young women and key stakeholders to increase the visibility and effectiveness of Liberian women’s leadership regarding conflict prevention and responses to incidents of political and personal violence.
This Sustain the Peace project complements current peacebuilding work in targeted counties by identifying and training 150 women peace advocates as Peace Brigades and establishing 15 Peace Desks. GPFA’s Peace Brigades will work all year round with community leaders to increase community capacity to address political violence, street violence, and sexual and gender-based violence.
A key pillar of the project is the creation of Peace Desks in all fifteen districts. Each district has a Peace Desk Officer who leads GPFA’s network of community leaders and Peace Brigades to respond to sexual and political violence in their communities. They are charged with tracking and reporting instances of violence against women and are serving as mediators and mentors of young women peacebuilders.
This weekend, GPFA mobilized sixty (60) Peace Brigades in all six districts within Lofa county. In Voinjama city, GPFA conducted a stakeholder meeting with Lofa county’s authorities namely, the county’s Superintendent, Hon. William Tamba Kamba, the County Attorney, Salayea District’s Paramount Chief, Voinjama’s Gender-Focus Person, and other community partners, including representatives from Persons with Disabilities, Traditional Council, Muslim and Christian faiths.
In all districts, GPFA has created opportunities to ensure that the Peace Brigades are trained by female law experts to lead interventions to address violence experienced by women. For example, representatives from the Association of Female Lawyers (AFELL) and the Liberian Female Law Enforcement Association (LIFLEA) have curated comprehensive peacebuilding sessions that equip Peace Brigades with skills to address issues of domestic and political and also to track and report SGBV cases.
GPFA realized that in districts where there are deep-seated traditional and cultural norms, women cannot readily speak out about their abuses due to stigmatization and social exclusion. GPFA’s partnership with AFELL allows victims of SGBV to anonymously report instances of violence with practical assurances of legal intervention. The lack of safe homes in many districts and the absence of female law enforcement officers also impede women’s ability to report cases of violence.
The women in Vahun mentioned they are discouraged from reporting rape cases to local authorities because out of sixteen communities in said district, there is no female officer. “Men are the ones who abuse us, so how can we report rape instances to the same men, and even when we do, they do not pay any attention to our cases,” said one of the members of GPFA’s Peace Brigades. GPFA ensured that female representatives from LIFLEA were leading SGBV training in male-dominated districts because it is vital for victims of SGBV to feel a sense of solidarity to guarantee that their issues will be treated with urgency if reported.
A significant aspect of this project is the screening of Pray the Devil Back to Hell, which documents the extraordinary story of the Mass Action Women who came together amid Liberia’s bloody civil war, took on the violent warlords, and helped to end the 14-year long crisis. This documentary screening was instrumental in urging the Peace Brigades to remember their past and recommit to sustaining the country’s hard-fought peace. During the screening, many of the women burst into tears. Several of the participants mentioned although the war has ended, women still experience many kinds of violence daily. GPFA immediately conducted a trauma healing session and convened a space for Peace Brigades to talk about issues that are hindering women’s rights. Teenage pregnancy, rape, early marriage, and domestic violence are among the many issues women in Lofa County mentioned as impeding the full expression of peace and freedom from violence.
The Peace Desk has been strongly welcomed by Liberian women who feel neglected by the system. The United Nations Spotlight Initiative Field Officer, Bro. Merlin Daniel commented on the Peace Desks’ importance: “The establishment of the peace desk enables SGBV victims to easily report rape cases with the benefit that the Peace Brigades will facilitate prosecution.” Lofa County Gender Coordinator, Madam Esther Koryon, also encouraged participants to leverage the Peace Desk and reaffirmed her commitment to curbing SGBV. Voinjama’s Peace Desk Officer, Ma-Watta F. Kamara, stated she is excited about this role in her community and will work tirelessly to ensure that the women of Voinjama know that the Peace Desk is for and by them.
NB: This publication is produced with funding from the Women’s Peace & Humanitarian Fund, however, the views expressed and content included does not imply official endorsement or acceptance by the United Nations.”