Monrovia — A group of Liberian women with backings from the Women Legislative Caucus of Liberia and other partners have resolved to launch a robust awareness campaign on the Domestic Violence Bill with the aim of garnering more support to ensure its passage into law.
Speaking to reporters after a roundtable discussion with stakeholders on the passage of the bill on Wednesday, August 8 in Monrovia, the Chairperson of the Women Legislative Caucus, Rivercess County District #1 Rep. Rosana Schaack said to galvanize more support for the passage of the bill, they have begun enlightening stakeholders including female candidates (who were not successful) of the 2017 elections about the bill to lead the awareness in their respective communities.
"We are now starting these discussions with stakeholders including former candidates in the 2017 race. They are still active in their constituencies and we want them to lead the awareness on this bill and other issues like FGM (Female Genital Mutilation) the Affirmative Action Bill and Executive Order 92," Rep. Schaack said.
The Domestic Violence Bill which was introduced in the 53rd Legislature seeks to address many vital issues affecting domestic and gender-based violence such as physical abuse, emotional verbal and psychological abuse, economic abuse, dowry-related violence, offenses against the family, female genital mutilation, sexual abuse, and harassment.
But the most contentious issue stalling its passage was the provision that criminalized FGM, thus making offenders to be punishable by law.
The 53rd Legislature passed the bill; omitting the clause that bars FGM much to the consternation of some feminist groups and then President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.
However, the Rivercess County lawmaker told reporters that a new version of the bill that bars children under 18 years from undergoing cutting is being worked on.
In addition, she mentioned that the bill will give every Liberian the exclusive right to make a choice to attend or not to attend the Poro and Sande schools.
Said Rep. Schaack: "We want to put an age limit because according to our constitution, no one under the age of 18 has the right to consent to anything. So, if a person wants to attend the Sande or Poro and if they reach 18, they have the right to do so. It is their right to choose whether they want to participate or not. But no parents should force their children or anybody in the community to be a part of something that they don't want to be a part of," she explained.
She continues: "Some of the issues were not clear. In the traditional setting when you are not a member (of the Poro or Sande), you are ostracized. People are beaten and forced to attend the traditional schools. These actions make it (FGM) a domestic issue. The wider opinion is there are implications of the home such as being ostracized from taking part in community activities. So, it's time that we look at it and modify it to give every citizen of Liberia equal right."
She further added that the bill, when passed will protect everyone including women, children and men; adding "Domestic violence is not only limited to children. Both men and women are victims of domestic and economic violence."
Also speaking Rep. Moima Briggs-Mensah (Bong District #6) expressed confidence that the bill will be passed following the consultation and awareness campaign.
She, however, stressed that there is need to seek the opinions of major stakeholders including the traditional leaders such as the Council of Elders and Chiefs, Women, men and policy makers to ensure its smooth passage.
"I am confident that this bill will be passed. The 54th Legislature is doing all it can to get this bill passed. We are working on it to make it better, we are meeting at every level and we are correcting those mistakes that were made to make sure that it can be passed smoothly," Rep Briggs-Mensah averred.
It can be recalled that during the administration of former President Sirleaf, she vowed to ensure the passage of the Domestic Violence bill before her tenure expires.
But that promised was not fulfilled as the 53rd Legislature passed the bill without the portion that criminalized FGM on grounds that doing so would erode one of Liberia's most sacred cultural and traditional practices.
Passing the Domestic Violence Bill without the FGM component, then President Sirleaf said the lawmakers' actions undermined the very essence of the law and leave it incomplete.
She then issued Executive Order 92 on January 19, 2018, just days before leaving office. The decree protects women against violence and abolishes FGM against young girls under the age of 18.