My earliest understanding of the vulnerability, the myriad of abuse and insecurity, women and girls face was the murder of Angel Togba back in November 2007.
At the time, we were 8th-grade classmates at the Christ The King Catholic School. We didn’t have a personal relationship, but like the rest of Liberia, Angel’s murder overwhelmed me with sadness and fear. It existentially unveiled the incompetence within our Judicial, Medical and Cultural systems that have remained detrimental to Liberians, particularly young girls and women- but especially young girls.
Simply put, our systems are flawed with complacency, inaction and responsibility shifting.
Just this year alone, from January to October 2018, the Ministry of Gender, Social and Children Protection (MoGSCP) has recorded 1,838 cases of gender-based violence (GBV) of which 97.4% (1,792) of victims were women and girls while statutory rape accounted for 57.4% (1,053) of those cases. That is, approximately 105 little girls stripped of their innocence and sentenced to dealing with that trauma for life.
THIS IS WHY WE FEEL UNPROTECTED.
Like most countries with tremendous rape stigmatization and the absence of assurance to due process and justice, more than half of rape cases in Liberia are not reported. One can only imagine the abysmal depths of silent scars victims of gender-based violence, and sexual abuse sustain on the daily.
Beginning November 25, 2018, Women Rights groups and civil society organizations across the world have amalgamated their voices and cries against gender-based violence against women and girls. The campaign, 16 days of Activism, which runs until December 10th, is a protest that intersects gender, human rights, and human values.
The Liberian government, the MoGSCP, Liberian civil rights groups- the likes of the Liberian Feminist Forum- and other international organizations operating in the country all took a stand commemorating the 16 days of activism.
While the participation of the government of Liberia is acknowledged, it is but a courtesy. Here is why: in this age of championing the rights of women and girls, there have been numerous calls for robust, effective and efficient access to justice, but the Gender Ministry has continued to complain about low funding from Ministry of Finance and Development Planning (MFDP) for victims’ support. Also, in October of 2017, the statutory committee of the Judiciary branch submitted a bill led by Former Sinoe county Senator, J. Milton Teahjay, to amend the Rape law and making rape a bailable crime. This means the pre-verdict exoneration from detention of accused persons. A year later, our lawmakers are yet to reject the bill, because it is…. you know, rocket science. A very deliberate choice if you ask me. We could address the optics of this bill, but I would instead handle one B.S. at a time.
In addition to the many recent distorted turns, or the lack thereof, on gender violence and abuse issues such as the ‘More Than Me’ rape case, or the 13 year old girl raped and impregnated by Grand Gedeh District 2 representative, Morais T. Waylee, in 2017, our government has not taken proper or swift actions.
All of this begs the question: AS A NATION, WHAT ARE WE DOING TO ENSURE THAT WE PROTECT OUR WOMEN AND GIRLS?
Commemorating the 16 days of activism this year, organizations like the International Rescue Committee (IRC), The Association of Female Lawyers, and the Liberian Feminist Forum, are calling on the legislature to pass the ‘Domestic Violence’ bill, which simply aims to ensure that every Liberian can understand and claim their rights to protection and justice.
We are calling on the government of Liberia to address & work to prevent all forms of violence and abuse against women and girls.
We are calling on the government of this noble country to fight for us. To protect us.
Authored by Cyrene Williams
Featured Picture by Gossip Liberia