New York, NEW YORK — In 2003, Liberia celebrated the end of a 14-year-long civil war that left the country in a state of social, political and economic tragedy. “Peacemaking efforts” were largely not inclusive of women though women significantly suffered during the war. In 2005, Africa finally witnessed its first female president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf transform Liberia’s view of gender-inclusivity and peacemaking efforts. Mothers, sisters and daughters from all regions came together to form the leadership beside the continent’s first woman as head of state. Here are seven women-led advancements Liberia has made since 2005.
7 Notable Women-Led Advancements in Liberia
- Leymah Gbowee and the women who ended the war: During the war, Liberian women watched as their husbands were taken away or massacred in groups. Young kids were separated from their families to become child soldiers. Leymah Gbowee, a Liberian Noble Prize winner, founded the organization Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace campaign along with several other women. At the same time, she worked as a trauma counselor for ex-child soldiers. The Women in Peacebuilding Network (WIPNET) of West Africa offered her a leading position as Liberia’s coordinator as well. The campaign encouraged governments to discuss peace negotiations in Ghana. The mission was ultimately successful. More than 2,000 women came together during the war to force negotiation deals between former President Charles Taylor and the opposing rebels. Two hundred women physically and socially barred the two sides from leaving the negotiation room without an agreement. Taylor eventually resigned and a new election brought forth Liberia’s first female president.
- Efforts to limit FGM and domestic violence: In recent years, the Liberian government has taken multiple steps to end domestic violence. It meant to put an end to intimate violence behind closed doors. Though at times controversial in its specifics, certain laws demanded attention to prevalent domestic violence and abuse. Although initial government attempts did not include the criminalization of the female genital mutilation (FGM) practice, a 2018 Executive Order officially declared FGM an illegal act of violence against women and children. Former President Sirleaf made remarks about treatment facilities and support programs for victims. Though following years have led to weakening protections, banning FGM remains a major topic of discussion in the nation.
- Tough rape laws address the rape national crisis: Sexual assault and rape remain prevalent crimes in Liberia, according to the Overseas Security Advisory Council. About 75% of respondents to a WHO survey reported experiencing rape during the civil war. However, thousands of anti-rape protestors gathered to show their resistance to what many considered an unattended rape culture, which ultimately prompted President Weah to treat rape as a national crisis. Mandated sentences of 10 years for those found guilty of rape have gone into effect. Although rape remains a national crisis, a slowly shifting public awareness and mentality has begun to shift the scales.
- The healing peace huts: The Peace Hut Alliance for Conflict serves as an effort that provides healing spaces for spiritual, psychological or physically battered victims of the civil war. Efforts to heal also include space to include “ex-combatants in reconciliation.” By 2019, peacebuilders engineered and built 38 peace huts in order to share conversations about recent issues, civil reconciliations and victim rehabilitation efforts. Following former President Sirleaf’s inauguration, the Peacebuilding huts were founded to “foster peace and dialogue and rebuild broken relationships.” The peace huts also allow for local communities to mediate disputes, community policing and election discussions.
- Healthy Women Healthy Liberia: The CDC identified Liberia’s 10 main causes of death, all of which relate to health. With this information, Liberia’s Dr. Christiana Hena and America’s Dr. Marcella Ruch came together to found the first community-based health establishment for women and children. Healthy Women Healthy Liberia exists with the vision of transforming access to healthcare, resources and education for deprived patients. Recently, 50 Liberians received wheelchairs through the organization’s United States affiliate. The focus on women-led advancements in Liberia, along with advocacy, has proven effective at delivering aid and resources to those in need.
- The growth of women entrepreneurs and access to education: Emerging from conflict as a nation meant that Liberia needed workers to rebuild the country and strengthen the economy. In Liberia, “[w]omen-owned businesses are smaller and less mature than male-owned ones. Business women are less educated and younger than their male counterparts.” Nevertheless, women have recently been more likely to form businesses within agriculture and trade. Additionally, wholesale and retail trade, a major employment sector, employs up to more than a third of all working women. Education, access to capital and connections with others limit women the most with entrepreneurship, which has become more clear with time. Education-focused initiatives highlight these obstacles in an effort to boost learning.
- Women at the forefront of politics: Former President Sirleaf came into office in 2005 and spent 12 years as president of Liberia before her successor President Weah took office. Sirleaf ensured that her administration focused on increasing female influences. Here’s a list of various women who held high-level positions, breaking the glass ceiling of gender roles in Liberia.
A Better Future
Women-led advancements in Liberia are ascending to greater levels in society and gradually changing the infrastructure of Liberia. Subject to wife burning, dowry-related violence and rape, these women have begun to pave a new way forward. Women in Liberia concluded that the only bridge to peace needed to be built actively. This drive presented them with the opportunity to ally themselves with neighboring organizations, rebuild bridges and encourage citizens to dream of a more gender-inclusive and peaceful Liberia.
– Ayesha Swary