The president of the Association of Female Lawyers of Liberia (AFELL), Attorney Vivian D. Neal, has called on authorities at the Ministry of Education (MoE) to include Sexual and Gender-based Violence (SGBV) awareness in its curriculum.
Atty. Neal's statement was contained in her inaugural address as the new president of AFELL on Friday, December 6, 2019. Along with others, Atty. Neal said over the years they have unequivocally and repeatedly recommended to the Liberian Government that SGBV awareness be put in the school curricula from elementary level so as to help prevent SGBV.
"AFELL is ready to work with the Ministry of Education for crafting a syllabus. Our awareness messages should particularly focus on the children and teenagers," she said. Atty. Vivian D. Neal was inducted as President along with Attorney Philomena Tugbe Williams as vice president; Attorney Irene N. D. Saie as secretary; Cllr. Deddeh J. Wilson as Treasurer; Atty. Joyce E. S. Tarplah as Financial Secretary and Atty. Elizabeth M. Smith as Chaplain.
Speaking further, the AFELL boss added that their campaign on prevention must go to the churches, the Mosques, communities, homes and the remotest areas in the country so that no one is left behind.
The female legal luminary reminded the government that despite the gains that have been made in terms of the legal architecture aimed at protecting women and girls from SGBV, there is still a lot to be done.
She lamented that in 2018 alone, the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection reported more than 2,000 cases of SGBV.
Looking at the statistics, the AFELL boss said the Liberian Government must be engaged on issues that will promote and advance the rights of women and children.
"We will hold the government to her own policies or agenda and international instruments she has ratified that support the rights of women and girls and also promote peace and security. We need to examine whether or not government's programs for our beneficiaries are producing the desired results, if not, then we as civil society must constructively engage the government to find the way forward," she said.
According to her, without the help of the international community, the struggle to fight sexual and gender based violence would have been much more difficult, saying their colleagues from other CSOs have also been in the vanguard in this noble crusade to alleviate the suffering of their target beneficiaries.
"Yet, we need to only open the pages of our newspapers or scroll down the screen of our smartphones to recognize the enormity of the challenges still facing the rights of women today. The daunting challenges associated with SGBV are exacerbated by the tendency to compromised rape cases. This is why the incidence of rape has risen to an alarming rate.
This is why some alleged perpetrators go with impunity," she added. Atty. Neal reminded her colleagues and the government that women continue to face prejudice and discrimination at every level of the society, saying this must be brought to an end through continuous collective efforts. She wants the government commits the needed resources through budgetary support for the full implementation and sustainability of her programs on SGBV.
"Pre-trial detainees continue to languish behind bars, overcrowding the prison faculties, while some perpetrators go with impunity. Access to justice for victims or survivors is still therefore a major challenge. One of the reasons is that the financial responsibility of going through the criminal justice system is left with the victims or survivors' family to shoulder," she further lamented.
For her part, Madam Marie Goreth Nizigama, Country Representative of UN Women Liberia office who served as Guest Speaker commended AFELL for being in the front of advocacy for the promotion, protection and advancement of the rights of women, children and indigent persons in Liberia since its establishment on February 24, 1994.
The UN Women boss said it is no secret that like most post-conflict countries, women, children and indigent persons face daunting challenges which lead them being deprived justice, although it is inherent rights of all citizens.
"Vulnerability extends to harmful traditional practices such as female genital mutilation, gender and sexual based violence and early marriages just to name a few. Despite the enactment of a strong rape law and the high level of awareness, cases of rape continue to increase at an alarming rate. There are reports of cases being compromised," she said.
She added: "the validation of the Legal Aid Policy is very commendable and hope it will be transmitted into law. I trust that your induction today will provide hope for women in the fight to achieve equality in Liberia. We will support the Liberian Government through the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection to ensure that the women of Liberia enjoy their rights."