Monrovia — Her Voice Liberia Inc., a local non-governmental human rights institution, has launched an emergency response project aimed at delivering food aid to needy communities as well as tracking, reporting and ensuring prosecution of issues of Sexual and Gender Based violence, human rights abuses and providing legal aid support to victims of SGBV during the COVID-19 crisis.
The Project titled: "Strengthening Community Engagement during COVID-19" and sponsored by the Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA) will over the next six months distribute food and non-food items to six selected communities in Montserrado County.
About 10 households in each of the six communities including Waterside/West Point, Barnersville, Rock Hill, Slipway and the Peace Island communities will benefit from monthly distribution of food and non-food items for the next six months.
As per the project focus, the organization will distribute sanitary pads and other anti-COVID-19 materials to the selected households' along with other essential needs to help these households manage the burden associated with the crisis.
During the launch of the project at the office of the Independent National Commission on Human Rights (INCHR) on Tuesday, May 19, 2020 the Executive Director of Her Voice Liberia, Atty. Margaret M. Nigba said the organization will vigorously monitor issues of SGBV in Montserrado County during the implementation of the project.
She said the project will also monitor and report cases of sexual and gender based violence and work to ensure prosecution for perpetrators of any reported case of SGBV.
To make the project more visible and reach out to the public, she said a Hotline with numbers 1226 or +231888722382 is now fully functional and she is therefore encouraging the public to call freely and report any incidents of abuse in their communities for prompt response.
According to her, Her Voice is not only going to report cases of SGBV but will use a team of pro bono lawyers to prosecute cases speedily.
She applauded OSIWA Liberia for the support and said Her Voice is always willing to work with donors on issues relating to the rights of women, girls and vulnerable people.
She said the organization also provides access to justice and empowerment for vulnerable people by reporting issues of sexual and gender base violence.
Atty. Nigba added that Her Voice also provides pro bono legal aid services to women and children and indigent people.
She disclosed that even before the project supported by OSIWA, Her Voice had been reaching out by distributing COVID-19 preventive materials as well as food and nonfood items to inmates including sanitary pads and other essential materials specifically to female inmates at the Monrovia Central Prison and the Kakata Central prison as well as carrying out similar distributions in several communities in Montserrado and Margibi Counties.
The Her Voice Executive Director said the organization decided to respond to the COVID-19 with the emergency project due to lessons learnt from the Ebola crisis Liberia witnessed few years ago.
She disclosed that Her Voice will be providing both legal and psychosocial support to survivors.
Speaking at the launch of the project, the head of the Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA) Liberia Country Office, Madam Massa Crayton said COVID-19 exposes women and girls to more abuse and as such concerted strategies are needed ensure that the voices of women and girls are heard through the reporting of Sexual and gender based Violence during this pandemic.
Madam Crayton said even during normal circumstances women and girls were experiencing domestic as well as gender based violence and with the abusers and the victims now forced to remain at home for long hours, one needs to imagine what the situation would be at the moment.
"Many women and girls are suffering abuses silently because during normal time where abusers go out for some time, women and girls were still abused, so now that the abusers are forced to stay at home for long hours, one should imagine how worse the situation has become", she said.
According to Madam Crayton, organizations involved in SGBV work need to adopt strategies to ensure that the voices of women and girls are heard and abuses taking place in communities and at homes are reported promptly.
She added: "During normal time, cases of sexual and gender based violence are compromised, so how do we hear about these cases now during this crisis period is something we need to do through community engagement to be able to know what is actually taking place at homes."
Heartless men still abusing women
Officially launching the project, Madam Loretta Pope Kai National Civil Society Chairperson said there is a need to strengthen community engagement during the fight against COVID-19 like it was done with the Ebola outbreak in 2014.
She said while the country is fighting the outbreak of the coronavirus, those she referred to as "heartless men" are out there abusing women and girls.
"While every efforts are now directed towards fighting COVID-19, heartless men continue to abuse women and children in the communities at various homes, so this is better time for us to reach out to bring out these issues", she said.
An official from the Ministry of Gender, Assistant Minister of Gender and children and social protection, Madam Maminah Carr said the initiative by Her Voice Liberia is in the right direction as it is aimed at buttressing Government of Liberia efforts in protecting the rights of vulnerable groups including women and children.
"We know issues of sexual and gender based violence always increase during crisis period. Countries like France and Great Britain are reporting high percentages increase in sexual and gender based violence during COVID-19, so what more about Liberia?, so we need to do more to fight violence against women and girls", the Assistant Gender Minister said.
A Commissioner of the Independent National Commission on Human Rights, Commissioner Tonia Wiles also pledged the commission's support in working with Her Voice Liberia on human rights issues.