GROUP FLAYS CULTURAL PRACTICES -Says poverty, “bush schools” affect women

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Entrenched social and cultural practices have been identified as key factors affecting women and girls in Liberia thereby affecting their capacity to fight poverty and marginalization according to the latest research report released by the Platform for Development and Peace (P4DP). P4DP is an NGO dedicated to research and peace-building activities in Liberia.

The Executive Director of the Organization, Mr. James Suah Shilue who launched the research report in the Lakpazee Community, said the institution conducted a field research between August and December 2020 in sixteen (16) communities in Grand Bassa and urban Montserrado Counties

According to the study, 61 percent of respondents said limited participation of women in community leadership was the most prevalent form of marginalization of women, while 23 percent cited low women’s participation in family decision making and 16 percent attributed women’s marginalization to a variety of other factors. Marginalization, according to 59 percent of respondents, is being driven by gender differential, while 29 percent attributed its main driver to culture, with 8 percent and 4 percent stating religion and ethnicity, respectively.

The research identified poverty as one of the main factors that fuel marginalization, abuses and sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) in rural communities. In the words of most female participants, “compromises made of SGBV cases are often due to huge financial burdens placed on victims and survivors by the police and the courts when processing and hearing such cases.” Most respondents indicated that in rape case, a victim or survivor is requested to underwrite some costs including transportation for the police, the culprit and the victim or survivor, and a family member of the victim or survivor, which are further complicated by ‘local political interference by leaders’ and sometimes exorbitant fees charged by, especially in remote settings by lawyers to plead cases of the victims or survivors.

“There are also other findings, examples – ‘financial violence’ and  “Bush school” marriage, where elderly and resourceful men/boys marry younger girls by providing fees and needed resources in advance to facilitate girls to undergo the traditional rite because the girls parent do not have the money or resources to sponsor them through the ‘ Bush school’.  Also, different payments made to traditional Maid-wives to deliver a girl child compared to a boy child. The research also unearthed male chauvinist interpretations of religious beliefs and/or cultural prescriptions about gender interactions and the permissibility of/learning of domination of one gender over the other. All of these findings accentuate masculinity and contribute to women and girl’s marginalization”, the report said.

In both counties, the study stressed that access to justice remains a major problem especially for vulnerable women for whom most cases of gender-based violence are either not reported to the police or are reported and ended up being compromised. The study however noted that respondents differed on their preferences which showed that 56 percent on the average preferred the customary justice system, whereas 44 percent rather favored the statutory system. The preference women have for each of the system is dependent on certain reasons. Respondents with preference for the customary system believed that the system is easily accessible and more reliable while those who opted for the statutory justice system said their preference is based on the system’s fairness and easy accessibility. Across educational category, most respondents with education prefer the statutory system whereas those without education mostly go for the customary system. Respondents in the survey stated that their greatest challenges that prevent them from seeking justice is tradition (77%), followed by lack of access to lawyers to adjudicate their case (10%), and community and family induced compromise (9%), etc.

However, despite the appalling findings, the research also identified women and men led initiatives that are countering SGBV trough different activities. For example, a high-profile leadership of the Sande society is now a ‘change agent’ – training and providing skills for women and girls. Weaving, which has exclusively been for men in the past is now being used to empower women and girls.

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