Women Hold Vigil for SGBV Victims
Monday was another November 25, a date that brings unkind reflections to the minds of millions of women across the world, who fall prey to the brutality of their male counterparts.
The day officially begins the 16-Days of Activism Against Sexual Gender-Based Violence (SGBV), an international campaign to challenge and bring an an end to violence against women and girls.
The 16-Days of Activism campaign, which runs every year from November 25 to December 10, is being held under the national theme, "Stay Blue."
Liberia's case with regard to SGBV is not getting any better, because the more awareness that is created, the more vicious perpetrators become--preying on women and girls, especially children, some as young as three months, to pour out their wickedness in the name of satisfying their perverted tastes and desires.
Women's rights advocates say they are tired speaking as there seems to be no tangible actions from major stakeholders.
This does not however mean that the women are short of options and would look on hopelessly. They have designed a new strategy that will not only ensure that women are protected, but predators also face the full weight of the law.
"It is no longer words but actions," they say--actions from national duty bearers that will ensure that women are given the safe haven they deserve.
It was against this backdrop that the women converged in their numbers at the Fish Market grounds in Sinkor, outside Monrovia at a vigil to commemorate the lives of women, girls and children, who perished in sexual and gender-based violence.
The women spoke of other victims, who are bearing the brunt and scars of this societal menace to announce that enough is enough, and they must be provided the needed protection by their government.
The venue of the vigil reverberated with "Together, together, We Shall Over SGBV," a solidarity song that rally all women to stand together as a unified force to combat the menace.
Clad in all black, the women sealed their mouths with black cloths--a sign that they are tired speaking, now determined for action.
Medica Liberia Country Director, Caroline Bowah Brown, said Liberian women and girls do not deserve the violence that is being meted against them.
She said the vigil is also meant to show that women and girls are angry about the unfortunate situation in the country.
As one of several Women leaders under the Eliminating Violence against Women and Girls Network, Madam Brown, urged the public to break the culture of silence which protects perpetrators. She said point of the vigil is to declare that there is absolutely something wrong with a society whose women constantly live in fear of being the next victims of rape.
The Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection recorded a whopping 2025 SGBV cases from January to September this year. Seventy percent of these are rape cases, majority of which are against minors--some as young as three months old.
Madam Brown condemned the violence that women face daily, including instances in which some women have lost their lives. She said the vigil was being held due to the increased media reports on women and girls who have been killed.
"Given this trend, I don't think as a country we can go on like this. Therefore, we need to know what is the root cause of the violence against women. We also need to demand tougher actions against those perpetrators," she said.
As part of the vigil, the women marched with lit candles as they read the names of some of the victims, and the releasing of balloons into the air--all of which was meant to identify with those, who lost their lives as a result of SGBV.
The high point of the night was when the mother of the late Odell Sherman took the podium and narrated her experiences with the justice system, while trying to seek justice for her 21 year-old daughter, who lost her life on the night she concluded a month-long national examination.
With tears, she recounted how she searched everywhere in vain to bring her daughter's killers to book.
In its 2019 first quarter (January-March) SGBV statistics, the ministry disclosed that there were over 700 reported SGBV cases across the country during the period under review. But there has been a surge in cases since then.
At an Information Ministry press briefing, Deputy Minister for Gender, Alice Johnson Howard, said that out of the total number of reported SGBV cases, 513 constitutes rape and sodomy (507 females and six males), 25 gang raped (females), 122 physical assaults (115 females and seven males), and 119 sexual assaults (females).
Forty-four rape victims are children below five years; 185 between six to 12 years of age; victims from 13 to 17 years of age constitute 376 cases; 18 to 25 years of age, 94 cases; and 25 years and above constitute 98 cases.
A significant majority of these cases, 630, occurred in Montserrado County, 41 in Grand Gedeh County, 26 in Nimba County, 22 in Bong, 19 in Margibi, 17 in Sinoe, 12 in Grand Bassa, 10 in Grand Kru, nine in Maryland, Lofa County four, five in River Cess, three in Gbapolu, one in Bomi, and River Gee County one.
The report, however, indicated that of the GBV cases reported, 19 have been resolved, 76 sent to court, 370 pending in court, 656 medical reports provided, 121 medical reports pending, 656 medical care provided, 646 medical reports issued, 216 arrested, 578 pending arrest, and five convicted.
Ms. Tarlee Dahn, 22, a volunteer with ActionAid, called on the judiciary to review the bail terms on domestic violence, and reduce the hearing time of cases of domestic violence to give victims speedy justice.
"Our sisters are being raped on a daily basis and there is a need for justice. Our justice system must provide the space for perpetrators to be brought to book," she said, but added that the system is too frustrating to seek redress.
The Gender Advisor at Plan International, Elizabeth G. Johnson, said that the network's advocacy will not stop "until our daughters stop dying from rape." She added that though a lot of awareness is created, the narrative is not changing. "So for this year, we have come together to engage national duty bearers to take meaningful actions against perpetrators, because you are accountable to us, and you must therefore act on our behalf," Mrs. Johnson said.
She expressed frustration that the government has signed on to numerous international instruments that seek to protect human rights, especially the rights of women and girls.
"Unfortunately," she said, "our government is not living up to those agreements."
ActionAid Country Director, Lashmi Moore, said that SGBV has become a chronic issue for women and girls in our society. This, she said, should not be happening, no matter what.
The Eliminating Violence against Women and Girls Network is an international platform that is working to bring an end to SGBV in Liberia. Members of the network include Kvinna Til Kvinna (KTK), ActionAid, Medica Liberia, Plan International, International Rescue Committee and OXFAM.