Liberia: LICHRD Launches Project On Sexual, Reproductive Health & Rights

The Liberia Coalition of Human Rights Defenders (LICHRD) has officially launched the Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) project in Liberia.

Funded by the Swedish Association for Sexuality Education (RFSU), the project seeks to increase respect for and access to sexual and reproductive health and rights which centers around fundamental right for all women and girls to have the right to decide over their own body.

RFSU is a Swedish State Agency committed to the promotion of Sexual and Reproductive health rights in Sweden and abroad.

LICHRD is a member of regional and international networks. It is a member of the West African Human Rights Defenders' Networks, and member of the Pan African Human Rights Networks.

Giving an overview of the project, LICHRD Program Coordinator also said the project seeks to address two fundamental issues, which includes safe and legal abortion in the country.

Sam Nimely said as a result of this problem, there are complicated and untimely deaths of most women who practice unsafe and illegal abortion in their communities and other places. Nimely said some have gone to the extent of using unwanted substances just to get rid of the pregnancy.

"If you look at the Penal Code that talks about abortion, something needs to be done. During the implementation of the project, we will work with people who have legal knowledge to count on their pieces of advice and consultancy on these issues. The marriage law, we need to revisit the marriage law because the constitution talks about 18 years, for maturity, but the customary law is saying 16 years and prepared for marriage. There is a need to harmonized those laws and this is a problem because most traditional people and others take advantage of the customary law and marry to children," he said.

Nimely added "So, there is a need to harmonize these laws for our girl children to focus on their education instead of early marriage because this law is also contributing to forced and early marriage. After the launching, we will be going into various communities. We have various clusters that have been working on these issues. This is a prelude of our activities."

He said during the implementation of the project, one of the tools they will use to engage the government is the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) recommendations. "As a coalition, we are determined in collaboration with other institutions that are involved in Sexual reproductive health rights activities to submit a shadow report to the human rights council during Liberia review," he said.

For her part, the Co-Chairperson of the Board of LICHRD, Mrs. Roseline Thomas Richards called on members of the coalition to commit themselves to their ambition and achieve together.

Mrs. Richards reminded her colleagues that the country is still challenged for the most part, dealing what she calls highly entrenched cultures and dreaded social norms practiced before and now.

She said these challenges have and continue to bedevil the collective progress and have narrowed the path to achieving sense of bodily integrity or well-being and saddled the overall growth and development as a people and country, thus leading to infringements upon rights to information and sexual and reproductive health rights.

"We must never forget that the change we struggle to make will be as has always been resisted by those who have kept us down. Therefore, the time for tougher, genuine and concerted action is now and not later.

Also speaking, the Head of Development Cooperation at the Swedish Embassy near Monrovia, Elizabeth Harleman said the launch of the project is an example of Sweden at work pursuing common goals for development assistance to Liberia.

Madam Harleman said the embassy is pleased that RFSU has identified Liberia as one of the priority countries for its support.

She said RFSU's support to local CSOs to strengthen SRHR response complements the Embassy of Sweden existing work in this area.

"RFSU's international goal is that everyone's sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) are respected, fulfilled and protected through accessible, high quality sexual and reproductive health services; non-discriminatory societal norms and legal, policy and rights framework that make positive contribution towards realizing SRHR contraception, the right to have family planning education, the right to decide over their own body," she said.

She said the embassy encourages such partnerships that are based on mutual trust and respect; openness, transparency and accountability often endure.

At the same time, the Board Chairman of LICHRD, Mr. Duwana Kingsley has challenged members of the coalition that they will count on them during the implementation of the project to produce a report that will confirm to the detail of RFSU project.

Mr. Kingsley recounted that the coalition has been in existence for almost ten years, but said they have not had the leverage to go on with what they have to do. "We should do assignment to the best because it will help us bring in more funding and achieve our goals," he added.

Universal Periodic Review

The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) is a unique process which involves a periodic review of the human rights records of all 193 UN Member States. The UPR is a significant innovation of the Human Rights Council which is based on equal treatment for all countries. It provides an opportunity for all States to declare what actions they have taken to improve the human rights situations in their countries and to overcome challenges to the enjoyment of human rights. The UPR also includes a sharing of best human rights practices around the globe. Currently, no other mechanism of this kind exists.

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