Platform for Dialogue and Peace (P4DP) has launched an audio mobile visual awareness and sensitization campaign in several communities on “entrenched social and cultural practices” affecting women and girls in Liberia. The campaign comes against the backdrop of findings produced from field research conducted by P4DP with a grant from the Women’s Peace and Humanitarian Fund (WPHF) and Spotlight Initiative through the United Nations Women. Styled “Mobile for the Promotion of Justice for Women and Girls Rights” (Mobile4women), the project is being implemented in Grand Bassa and Montserrado Counties.
P4DP’s Executive Director, James Suah Shilue who launched the research report in the Lakpazee Community, said the institution conducted field research between August and December 2020 in sixteen (16) communities in Grand Bassa and urban Montserrado Counties. The main assumptions underlying the study, according to him, are national and local institutions in post-war Liberia operate largely through patriarchal lenses, hence prone to political interference and gender insensitivity as well as ineffective, when it comes to the prevention of the violation of women rights, particularly in most rural and peri-urban areas where negative perception perpetrated by patriarchal values are mediated through social, cultural and traditional norms thus placing women and girls in a vulnerable position as the “weak servants” that need protection from the king’s ( men/boy) who are the “defender” of the household and society. The social narrative of male superiority as a result of the male biological capacity to prolong the family linage beyond the second generation continues to ignite a wave of marginalization and abuse.
The mixed-method study both qualitative and quantitative approaches backed by film audio crew, according to the Executive Director, interviewed 528 respondents, consisting of 82 percent women and girls and 18 percent males. Mr. Shilue also said 10 women’s rights and women-led civil society organizations working in gender-based violence (GBV) programs in the two counties were interviewed and selected to undergo intensive capacity-building training to enhance their skills, knowledge, and passion in advocacy for gender-sensitive human rights. The findings are also expected to be launched in Buchanan and other rural communities in Grand Bassa County, shortly.
The research study established, among others, that women and girls are marginalized based on the social, cultural, and religious norms and practices in their settings with limited protection to safeguard their rights. According to the study, 61 percent of respondents said limited participation of women in community leadership was the most prevalent form of marginalization of women, while 23 percent cited low women’s participation in family decision making and 16 percent attributed women’s marginalization to a variety of other factors. Marginalization, according to 59 percent of respondents, is being driven by gender differential, while 29 percent attributed its main driver to culture, with 8 percent and 4 percent stating religion and ethnicity, respectively.
Most respondents contended, the study noted, that men use dowry payment as a form of marginalization, especially in rural communities, believing that because women come to live in the homes of men and men pay the dowry to their families, the men claim dominion over them. Dowry payment which by tradition amounts to $48 is increasingly used as a tool for GBV and marginalization rather than a symbolic expression of appreciation to the family of the bride. The study asserted that most men, particularly in rural areas perceived dowry payment for the bride as buying of the woman. The research also indicated that even in most urban areas where the majority of women are the breadwinners, their men still exercise oversight roles in final decision making in the homes. To this end, the study asserted that men believed women do not have the right to question their decisions and once the decisions are questioned, they become annoyed, which leads to physical, emotional, and economic violence against women. A female respondent law enforcement officer involved with women and children protection issues averred “[we] are living in a country and Monrovia is not Liberia; culture and tradition are still promoting the act that men should make all of the decisions in the home, men feel that they are men, and their voices should be supreme.”
The research identified poverty as one of the main factors that fuel marginalization, abuse, and sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) in rural communities. In the words of most female participants, “compromises made of SGBV cases are often due to huge financial burdens placed on victims and survivors by the police and the courts when processing and hearing such cases.” Most respondents indicated that during a rape case, the victim or survivor is requested to underwrite some costs including transportation for the police, the culprit and the victim or survivor, and a family member of the victim or survivor, which is further complicated by ‘local political interference by leaders’ and sometimes exorbitant fees charged by, especially in remote settings by lawyers to plead cases of the victims or survivors.
In both counties, the study stressed that access to justice remains a major problem especially for vulnerable women for whom most cases of gender-based violence are either not reported to the police or are reported and ended up being compromised. The study however noted that respondents differed on their preferences which showed that 56 percent on the average preferred the customary justice system, whereas 44 percent rather favored the statutory system. The preference women have for each of the systems is dependent on certain reasons. Respondents with a preference for the customary system believed that the system is easily accessible and more reliable while those who opted for the statutory justice system said their preference is based on the system’s fairness and easy accessibility. Across the educational category, most respondents with education prefer the statutory system whereas those without education mostly go for the customary system. Respondents in the survey stated that their greatest challenges that prevent them from seeking justice are tradition (77%), followed by lack of access to lawyers to adjudicate their case (10%), and community and family-induced compromise (9%), etc.
Regarding COVID-19, the study established that 70 percent of respondents stated there were increases in the rate of SGBV in communities followed by non-persistent support to families. Rape strangely showed up the least on respondents’ ranking of SGBV cases. Meanwhile, the latter could be attributed to the knock-on effect of Covid-19 on institutions like (Police, MoGSCP, Court, Legal aid groups, etc) that used to mediate to ensure law and order, which were not actively functioning due to covid-19.
There are also other findings, examples – ‘financial violence’ and “Bush school” marriage, where elderly and resourceful men/boys marry younger girls by providing fees and needed resources in advance to facilitate girls to undergo the traditional rite because the girls parent do not have the money or resources to sponsor them through the ‘ Bush school’. Also, different payments made to traditional Maid-wives to deliver a girl child compared to a boy child. The research also unearthed male chauvinist interpretations of religious beliefs and/or cultural prescriptions about gender interactions and the permissibility of/learning of domination of one gender over the other. All of these findings accentuate masculinity and contribute to women and girl’s marginalization.
However, despite the appalling findings, the research also identified women and men-led initiatives that are countering SGBV through different activities. For example, a high-profile leader of the Sande society is now a ‘change agent’ – training and providing skills for women and girls. Weaving, which has exclusively for men in the past is now being used to empower women and girls.
P4DP is an NGO dedicated to research and peacebuilding activities in Liberia. Based on its vision of having a Liberian society characterized by social justice and equality for both men and women, P4DP works towards promoting safe, peaceful, and integrated Liberian society, using evidence-based research and participatory action activities in both urban and rural communities to identify needs and challenges of communities and together work to bring about sustainable solutions.
As part of its efforts to promote the role of women in national development in Liberia, P4DP often collaborates with women-led organizations to commemorate International Women’s Day. During this year’s celebration, P4DP in collaboration with Arise Impact Liberia, a student-based NGO involved with advocating the rights of children and youth will celebrate the International Women’s Day program under the theme “#Choose to Challenge”. The celebration of the day will bring together a cross-section of women and students in Monrovia. Inspired by the phrase “A challenged world is an alert world” and from challenge comes change, P4DP and partners will highlight challenges that women and girls experience and at the same time challenge the public to take positive actions to bring about transformative changes in the way and manner women and girls are perceived and treated.