Liberia October 2012

GNWP conducts community focused capacity building trainings and media awareness-raising campaign in Liberia

October 2012

Helena Gronberg

As we approach Gbarnga City in Bong County, the GNWP members I am traveling with tell me that we are entering the part of the country that used to be Charles Taylor’s stronghold. Although Liberia has been peaceful for over 10 years, and Charles Taylor is far away having been convicted of war crimes in The Hague, knowing this detail feels a bit eerie. Indeed, Charles Taylor’s name is to come up many more times during the three-day community focused capacity building workshop we are about to hold.

We have come to Gbarnga to conduct the second of two community focused capacity building workshops on United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1325 and 1820. In 2009 Liberia adopted a National Action Plan (NAP) on UNSCR 1325. As the second in Africa, the LNAP was celebrated as a great achievement and launched with much fanfare during the International Colloquium on Empowerment, Leadership Development, International Peace and Security in March 2009. The NAP implementation however, has all but stalled since then. At local level the resolutions and the LNAP, which are supposed to promote women’s participation, protect women and girls’ rights and prevent and protect women from sexual violence, remain unknown and sexual violence rates have increased over the past years rather than decreased. Much more awareness raising is needed especially in the rural communities.

Against this backdrop, the Global Network of Women Peacebuilders and its members in Liberia, the Liberia Women Media Action Committee (LIWOMAC), the Women’s NGO Secretariat of Liberia (WONGOSOL), Women in Peacebuilding Network (WIPNET) and Voice of the Voiceless (VOV) are carrying out a media (TV and radio) awareness campaign to help increase knowledge on the principles of LNAP and UNSCR 1325 and 1820 at national and local level. A primary goal of the campaign is to promote women’s participation in decision-making; protection of women and girls’ rights; prevention of conflict; prevention of and protection from sexual violence; and to ensure state accountability in regards to the implementation of the Resolutions.  After completing the radio- and television spots we are now field testing the programs in two community focused capacity building workshops in Grand Bassa and Bong counties. We hope to solicit feedback on the programs from various actors at local level in order to improve the messages of the campaign. Additionally the workshops serve as awareness raising fora. Sessions on conflict analysis; the background and content of UNSCR 1325; and the Liberia National Action Plan are conducted as participatory sessions using song and dance. Participants also discuss strategies on how the content of the LNAP and UNSCR 1325/1820 can be shared with others in the communities.

The issue of sexual and gender-based violence comes up repeatedly in the workshop. While I have been aware of the seriousness of the issue here in Liberia and that sexual violence rates have increased since the cessation of the conflict I am stunned at some of what I hear. It is agreed that perpetrators are not punished severely enough and that sexual- and gender based violence, especially rape and domestic violence, has become startlingly widespread. Additionally, one can see an alarming and shifting pattern among rape victims in Liberia. While rape was endemic during Liberia’s long civil war, ten years since the end of the conflict children now make up the majority of the victims. According to Doctors Without Borders, nine out of every 10 rape victims treated in Liberia in 2011 were under 18 years old. Many cases still go unreported due to fear of stigmatization and retribution. A lot of families will take money from the accused rather than press charges.

What really strike me though are the comments that are made in regards to Taylor’s conviction at the International Criminal Court in The Hague. I am told that there is a common sentiment that “by raping you will become famous and get to travel the world.” I ask our GNWP members if people seriously think this way and the answer is yes. “Look at Taylor, he is on the news and even fathered a child while in prison.” This kind of thinking is chilling and detrimental to any society, particularly one struggling with coming to terms with its violent past.

During the three days we get substantial feedback on the TV and radio programs. We are especially encouraged to produce the radio spots in as many local languages as possible as more than thirty languages are spoken in Liberia. “One thing lot of people have in common is the radio”, says John Bookman Marpu, a Peace Studies Major at Cuttington University and a local journalist. “People listen to the radio. The power of the radio cannot be underestimated. It reaches thousands of people at one time. These short messages about empowering women and respecting their rights, I think they are effective.”

GNWP and its members thank the Folke Bernadotte Academy of Sweden for supporting the media awareness raising campaign and the community focused capacity building workshops in Liberia.