With flaming optics and venoms against rape and sexual gender-based violence rising and spreading across the country in the aftermath of the increasing tide of the social menace, there appears much hope the situation will soon come under control. In fact, someone jokingly said, “If the current vociferous national campaign fails to nip rape in the bud, there is little or no hope it would ever”. Because, for the first time in the country’s history, a special national conference is convened bringing together and committing stakeholders not only to share and contribute their respective perspectives on the nature and root causes, but also to garner useful and sustained actions that can address the pandemic. On hand at the conference to accentuate the stubborn nature of the rape pandemic and the need to fight it with deliberate urgency and force was Liberia’s first lady Clar Decontee Weah who did not hide the feelings of women and mothers, telling the jam-packed Ministerial Complex audience, “We are angry.” But that was not until her husband, the Feminist-in-Chief and President of Liberia, Dr. George Manneh Weah, had delivered a vows-parked opening remarks, as The Analyst reports.
The biggest hall of the Ministerial Complex in Congo Town was on Tuesday, September 8, 2020, lighted with swarms of officials from the three branches of Government, as well as national and international civil society actors and diplomats and ordinary Liberians who had gathered to discuss rape and other sexual-based violence which have turned into an epidemic in recently months.
The opening remarks were loaded with fiery rhetoric not only painting the seriousness of rape in the country, but also the urgency of the need for actions and deeds that commensurate with the devastating weight and force of the pandemic.
President George Manneh Weah, the convener, was also not fancy in his keynote statements.
“This National Conference is convened out of my Government’s grave concern about the unprecedented recent surge of this evil scourge, which is a follow-up to a Special High-Level Meeting which I called last July to discuss the status of rape and other Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV) cases in the country,” the President asserted.
He noted that the conference as convened by him on the theme, “A National Call to Action: Inclusive Involvement to Fight Rape and Sexual and Gender-Based Violence in Liberia”, was an urgent call “in response to an alarming increase in rape and Sexual and Gender-Based Violence in recent times, especially during a time when we are at war with the deadly Covid-19 pandemic.”
“We are in fact witnessing what is actually an epidemic of rape within the pandemic, affecting mostly children and young girls across the country,” the President said.
He added: “Our aim and purpose during this National Conference, therefore, is to rally all Sexual and Gender-Based Violence stakeholders to discuss openly and contribute collectively to determine the best practices and procedures that would enable us to bring an end of rape and other forms of Sexual and Gender Based Violence in Liberia.”
The Liberian leader noted that at the end of this Conference, the proposals therefrom would be taken into account and serve as a validation of what would be known as “Government of Liberia and Partners’ Roadmap on Ending Sexual and Gender-Based Violence 2020-2022”.
Recently, the President appointed an Inter-Ministerial Task Force on Sexual and Gender-Based Violence, with a mandate to engage all stakeholders to discuss, consult and develop a Roadmap on enhancing the fight against Sexual and Gender-Based Violence.
The Roadmap was completed in the shortest possible time and presented to Government.
The President promised that following the review of this Roadmap at the conference, the Government plans to achieve effective results by adopting a new approach to addressing the sexual and gender-based violence-prevention process across all sectors, which will be characterized by adequately-funded prevention and response mechanisms.
“The expectation is that at the end of this Conference, the Roadmap will be fully inclusive of every possible thought we have on fighting this menace to our society, with the objective of improving our coordinated national response,” he stressed.
The President further stressed that with the adoption of these strategies, “we are hopeful that we will be able to improve and strengthen the enforcement of existing legislation, policies and standards that support the prevention and response to sexual and gender-based violence, thereby reducing the incidence of rape, child marriage, and female genital mutilation, amongst others.”
“We also want to ensure that our women, girls, boys and other vulnerable people at risk of abuse in our society will have increased access to information, protection and specialized services,” the President vowed. “I want to assure you that I remain relentless in my commitment to the cause of reducing and eradicating sexual gender-based violence in Liberia.”
First Lady: ‘We are Angry’
Amongst feminist activists and stakeholders who spoke at the opening of the conference was the First Lady of Liberia, Clar Weah, who expressed frustration at the stubborn nature of rape in the country despite increased efforts by Government and its partners.
All sexual gender-based violence are inhumane and unacceptable, she said. “I condemn rape and remain firm in my commitment that the rights of women, girls and children are protected.
“Since we took office, I have closely worked with the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection and our International Partners on SGBV issues,” the First Lady said.
She recalled that in June 2019, the “She’s U Movement” which is geared at providing necessary support for women, girls and children victimized by SGBV, as well as providing help to other vulnerable and marginalized groups, was launched.
“But with all our efforts, SGBV persists,” she cried out. “It is sickening to hear children as young as 10yrs old are being raped. There have been outcries on the penalties for perpetrators or would be perpetrators.”
According to her, the Anti-SGBV Road Map 2020-2022 has given clearer directions but strongly believes “our concentration should focus more on PREVENTION rather than punishment because of the physical, emotional and psychological impacts SGBV has on its victim.”
Madam Weah noted that while DNA machines and safe houses are necessary, SGBV awareness should be the main tool used in the fight against SGBV.
“The DNA machine will identify the right perpetrator and the safe house will provide temporary shelter but the scars from SGBV are permanent,” she said. “Therefore, we should prevent it from happening.”
She called on stakeholders to recognize the need to educate men and boys in schools, churches, Mosques and our communities against SGBV.
“Let us speak out and not be silent; prosecute the perpetrators and not shield them. We must protect the victims and refuse to compromise with people who are committing these atrocities.”
“This is unbearable and I am angry,” she barks. “We are Angry! The act of RAPE must stop. Our children are the future. We must protect them. Enough is enough! Let us hold hands and fight together. SGBV must end!”
“I am honored to join our President and Feminist-In-Chief, Dr. George Manneh Weah and a host of senior government officials in welcoming all of you to the National SGBV Conference,” she said, applauding the government of Liberia through the Inter-Ministerial Taskforce on SGBV for organizing this conference.
The First Lady said the theme, “A National Call to Action: Inclusive Involvement to Fight Rape/SGBV in Liberia!” comes at a very challenging time, when COVID-19 Pandemic is having a devastating impact on the way “we live as people and our economy. Instead of us galvanizing our efforts on mitigating the Pandemic, we are here to find solution to another crisis, RAPE.”