Healing Liberia’s Women & Children
Ima Myers (June 14th 2004)
"A nation is not defeated until the hearts of its women are on the ground"
The bulletin titled, “Liberia: Major Effort Needed to Address Gender-Based Violence” released by Refugees International, highlights the perils many Liberian women and Children faced during Liberia’s war, and the perils they continue to face today.
These perils, particular to women in war situation, is acknowledged and protected in the United Nations Article 76 (1), which states that: “Women shall be the object of special respect and shall be protected in particular against rape, forced prostitution and any other form of indecent assault” (Article 76 (1), Additional Protocol I, 8 June 1977).
However, several reports have highlighted the fact that Liberian women and children; ranging from girls less than eight years old, to women in their seventies, have been victims or have witnessed sexual violence in Liberia. The American Medical Association, reported that 49% of Liberian women experienced one act of physical or sexual violence during the war. Some studies have put the proportion of women and girls raped in Liberia, at an estimated 40%. Associated Press buttressed these finding in an article, in which aid workers with rape survivors' assistance groups in Liberia, reported that they had never seen so many rape cases before.
Due to shame and the fear of being ostracized by society, many rape victims do not come forward to admit they have been raped. Also, some areas in Liberia have remained inaccessible to international health and humanitarian workers; hence many have continued to live with the deep and damaging psychological trauma, which is a consequence of rape.
Without proper crisis counseling and rape support, the physchological and medical effects of sexual violence can last a lifetime. Victims of rape often loose their sense of safety in society and feel powerless; and may have become pregnant or infected with sexually transmitted diseases. Refugee International’s bulletin reported that, “… in some health clinics, all of their female patients tested positive for at least one STI. Most of these women were raped by either militia or rebel forces.”
Installing training centers and sexual education programs for women is a good first-step; however, concerted effort must be made by government, in conjunction with international agencies, to heal the psychological traumas faced by Liberian women and children.
In order to heal the deep trauma Liberian women and children have faced due to sexual violence, the psychological issues these victims face must be addressed from the victims’ perspective.
The painful experiences of victims must be validated by the implementation of concrete and tough anti-rape laws. Extensive campaigns should be carried out to enlighten Liberians about the consequences of rape on the victim. Also, women must be empowered and encouraged to advance in governance, so that the rights and issues particular to women are promoted in society.
Healing the trauma faced by Liberian women and children, is the first step in healing the nation. Like the old saying goes, “A nation is not defeated until the hearts of its women are on the ground”
About the author:
Ima Myers, is a Mathematician/Computer programmer. She currently resides in Canada.
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