By: Stephen G. Fellajuah
A Civil Society Organisation, the Platform for Development and Peace (P4DP), with funding from the Women Peace and Humanitarian Fund (WPHF) and Spotlight Initiative through the United Nations Women (UN Women), has launched an evidence based Gender Preventive documentary, “Mobile4Women”, which shares captivating video documentary of major findings and voices of ordinary community dwellers and key actors captured during several months of rigorous research.
In his welcome remarks, the Executive Director, James Suah Shilue, said barely two years ago, the P4DP conceptualized the project and coined it “Mobile for the Promotion of Justice for Women and Girls’(Mobile4Women) to help probe the underlying factors contributing to women and girl’s marginalization and Gender Based Violence(GBV). He said the project did not only investigate negative social and cultural practices but also probed which option of justice women experiencing GBV prefer and why.
He told the audience that the purpose of the gathering was to share women and girls’ experiences in terms of the negative effects of gender and social norms with the aim of stimulating and nurturing a new set of attitudes towards women and girls. He added that gender norms are social norms that are sometimes embedded in formal and informal institutions, nested in the mind, and produced and reproduced through social interaction, stressing that it was why his institution decided to dwell on the “social norms approach”.
“There are several sociocultural factors that pose challenges to the eradication of GBV in Liberia. In addition to patriarchal norms that maintain the low social status of women and girls, the legacy of the Liberian civil wars which were characterized by extremely high levels of sexual and other forms of violence against women including rape is being used as a weapon of war. As a result, the nature and level of violence have, to an extent, been ‘normalized’ in the post war Liberia, with a cultural and societal acceptance of violence against women and children, especially girls”, Mr. Shilue said.
Presenting some specifics from the research findingsP4DP’s Gender Officer, Diemah Kpar Kyne McCrownsey, said that the study unearthed a range of social and cultural norms contributing to the marginalization and other forms of violence women and girls faced. According to her the study provides sex disaggregated data on the various forms of social, cultural barriers women face and even the challenges women encounter in pursuing justice within Liberia’s dual justice system.
“For instance, the study discovered “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’ parents do not have the money or resources to sponsor them through the ‘ Bush school. Also, the research also revealed that 61 % 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”, she said.
Speaking further on the achievement of the study, she said in both Montserrado and Grand Bassa Counties, the intervention reached a total of 682 direct beneficiaries consisting of 441 women and girls, and 241 men and boys and that the indirect beneficiaries impacted was estimated at 34,100 persons computed based on national statistical inference of 5 household dependents to a household head.
“Also, twenty-five (25) participants from 9 beneficiary women’s rights and women-led organizations received eight-day capacity building training in Grand Bassa and Montserrado Counties. They were trained in advocacy and awareness on key social, cultural, religious, and political barriers to women accessing justice under the dual legal systems in Liberia. The participants were exposed to 8 specialized training modules designed based on P4DP’s research findings. One participant described the training as a vital platform that provided an opportunity to build their capacities on critical issues previously considered as ‘taboo’”, she added.
The research shows the important link between participation and representation on the one hand, and access to socio-economic benefits on the other. In Liberia, the odds in economic and social systems are heavily against women in relation to gender empowerment and this underscores why this GBV prevention intervention is structured to address to address the underlying causes and drivers of violence against women and girls.
The Chairperson of the occasion Madam Loretha Aletha Popei-Kai commended P4DP for such a marvelous job which highlighted the cultural practices that sanction GBVs and human rights abuses in the country, stressing that the study probes the underlying factors contributing to GBVs and other forms of abuses is important in changing attitudes and social norms.
Madam Popei-Kai, who also served as Chief launcher of the project in the absence of Vice President Jewel Howard Taylor, called on the participants and other stakeholders to take the initiative by P4DP very seriously because it goes beyond looking at the symptoms and tackles the root causes, which is the best way to eradicate societal malaise. She added that everyone should work collectively to eliminate bad cultural norms and practices because GBV is upheld by patriarchal notions of power which rely on male entitlements and societal permission
“Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, there are several sociocultural factors that pose a challenge to the eradication of GBV in Liberia. In addition to patriarchal norms that maintain the low social status of women and girls, we have a biased justice system that tends to deprive women of their rights. Women and girls are constrained to sometimes compromise GBV cases because of harsh economic conditions, lack of money, unavailability and inaccessibility of the statutory justice system, and the huge presence of male dominated structures all around our country”, she said.
In her policy context response, Madam Elizabeth Dorkin, Officer in Charge ( OIC) at the Governance Commission (GC) said that the promotion of justice for women and girls is a very critical policy focus for the government of Liberia and stated that her institution is fully implementing the policy.
She further said the Governance Commission has been collaborating with the Ministry of Gender and other institutions to ensure that respective establishments of government have their gender policies that are in line with the national gender policies crafted by the government.
While appreciating and commending P4DP for the research feat, she recommended that the findings be a key resource for decentralizing gender policy in the country and asked the management of P4DP to present the results of the study to the Governance Commission to document the same as a working document.
The newly designated Swedish Ambassador to Liberia Mr. Urban Sjostrom who was represented by Madam Dwede Tarpeh, Program Officer for Gender and human praised P4DP for the project and described the research as a multiple performance of engagement and other facts that are important in fighting gender based violence. She added that it is going to be useful if stakeholders develop a new approach to SGBV that is evidence based like P4DP, an approach that her institution is adopting in its intervention in Liberia.
In her special remarks the Country Representative of the United Nations Women, Madam Marie Goreth Nizigama, who was represented by Dr. Pearl Atuhaire, Technical Program Specialist said she was delighted to be part of the program that will go a long way in addressing gender related issues in the country and said the UN Women was proud to partner with P4DP in its activities.
She noted that the research on social norms and cultural practices are parallel factors contributing gender based violence, marginalization and vulnerability of women and girls.
“We believe that the findings will make a significant improvement to a safe society for women and girls globally. The evident based GBV preventive documentary, I hope presents a daily evident based platform on major findings of ordinary communities’ dwellers and key stakeholders during the implementation of the project, which will contribute immensely to the reduction of gender based violence in Liberia. UN Women will continue to pledge it support to the government of Liberia to insure that actions against gender based violence will go across all communities and also encourage the Liberians to push for gender equality and prevent gender base violence against women and girls”, she said
In his closing remarks, the Acting Chairman of the Board of Directors of P4DP, Reverend Dr. Wallah S. Wilsitoe, Jr extended his thanks and appreciation to those who attended the program as well as the funding partners for making the project come to fruition. He said that from various remarks, presentations and the very insightful video, the study conducted by the civil society institution has certainly unearthed a range of social and cultural norms, which are contributing to the marginalization and various forms of violence women and girls are facing.
“I am particularly intrigued by some of the findings and challenge all of us to not leave this hall without a deeper inward reflection of our morality and commitment to doing something to address the problems identified and recommendations put forward”, he concluded.