24-year-old Mawatta leads the Girls Advocacy Alliance in her hometown in Lofa county, in the north western corner of Liberia. Her team of youth ambassadors, which includes young women and men, have had to change their way of working during the coronavirus pandemic and are now reaching out directly to their community to prevent an escalation of gender-based violence during the lockdown.
“Because of COVID-19 things are difficult for everyone. We have moved from group meetings to door-to-door awareness raising about gender-based violence. Right now, child marriage is not happening like before, but we still have cases of violence and teenage pregnancy to deal with.” Mawatta explains.
Plan International’s Girls Advocacy Alliance (GAA) project in Lofa County establishes safe spaces for young people to increase their knowledge and understanding about girls’ issues in Liberia and other parts of the world. The group holds meetings and runs awareness raising activities to encourage community members, religious leaders and traditional leaders from ten communities in Lofa county to take a stand against gender-based violence.
Mawatta’s team has got the support of their town’s traditional leaders and chief in their advocacy work against the exploitation and abuse of girls and young women during the COVID-19 crisis. “If the leaders are not with us, it is difficult to fight violence against women and girls. That’s why we are happy that they understand our mission and are ready to support us.”
Gender-based violence has been on the rise in Liberia since the lockdown measures and other restrictions were imposed to prevent the spread of the virus so the GAA project team are also building the capacity of the young change ambassadors and community leaders about how to prevent and report cases of violence other abuses against girls and women during the crisis.
“We know there are some men who will use the lockdown situation to abuse girls and young women. We are making sure that we reach everyone with the message that gender-based violence is not okay and that parents should look after their daughters during this time,” Mawatta says.