…As PAYOWI and partners Host one day public discourse with students

By: Leila B. Gbati

Students, mostly girls, have been urged to report Sexual and Gender Based Violence and all other forms of violence committed in school.

The call was made on Wednesday, December 8, 2021 at a public discourse organized by the Paramount Young Women Initiative (PAYOWI), as part of activities in observance of the 16 Days of Activism, held at Peace Island City Hall in Congo Town.

Giving the overview of activities, Program Coordinator of PAYOWI, Hawa Wilson said, the public discourse was intended to educate students, especially girls, to know about the different forms of violence perpetrated in schools and how can they tackle it.

Ms. Wilson indicated that in observance of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Based Violence, the Enough Campaign Project is one of several projects in Liberia funded by the European Union through OXFAM, implemented by FCI and PAYOWI.

According to her, the project title: Enough empowering women, girls, boys and men to take positive action in ending SGBV in Liberia is geared toward fighting and ending SGBV in every space, emphasizing that PAYOWI has been working with various high schools. She said as part of the 16 Days of Activism, they taught to host a public discourse to hear from students about harassment they encounter in schools and how can they prevent it.

The Young Advocate encouraged students to reflect on societal issues, gender roles and discriminatory norms that continue to promote violence and harmful practices in schools, communities and other places and what can they do as young women to manage and handle those issues they encounter.

The PAYOWI Program Coordinator admonished students to take the event very important so that when they go back to their various communities and schools they would be able to speak out against those SGBV cases when they occur.

Madam Wilson told the students that they would not have a safe space and confidence to speak out if they encourage SGBV in schools.

“Lets us all manage our body well by having absolute and total control over it, you own it, don’t allow anyone to take advantage of you. Do not create the space for people to always play with your body because such habits support and encourage SGBV,” Ms. Wilson said.

Also speaking, the Executive Director of PAYOWI, Madam Facia Harris noted that the event is meant for girls to be able to freely talk about the harassment they go through in school, communities and other places.

Madam Harris said that they want school girls to be able to engage schools’ administrators, parents, teachers, community leaders to make sure that when they leave their homes and go to school they are not abuse in schools and that schools can be a safe space that they can be happy and excited about.

She maintained that school is one of those places that you get nurtured, where you learn everything to develop your career.

She further told the girls that when they leave home and go to school, they do not expect to be abused or denied basic rights and teachers asking for money and playing with their bodies and saying all kinds of sexiest things to them.

“We had enough and it is time for us to be able to stand and speak out and also engage the system that continue to perpetrate these abuses against us, because we as survival, we suffered the most due to trauma. Teachers continue to harass students, we are tired and it is time for us to stand up to the system and be able to engage schools and shame teachers who are in those acts so that schools can be a safe space for us,” she said.

She told the girls to take the message back to their various schools and communities, stating, “It is time for you to engage and talk freely. Do not be shy and see it as bullying, you are advocating for a safe space because schools are supposed to be safe for every girl child”.

Meanwhile, Madam Harris also called on the girls to follow the news in order for them to be informed and know what is happening around them so that they can be able to protect themselves and the other generation to come and make sure that the society is free from SGBV and other forms of violence.

For her part, the Lead Youth Program Officer of Action Aid Liberia, Ms. Norwu Harris speaking on the topic Preventing SGBV in the world of schools told the girls that the only way they can prevent themselves from harassment from teachers, school administrators and even in their communities, is by speaking out.

Ms. Harris noted that SGBV in schools is a serious problem that students are experiencing which is causing them distraction and sometimes drift their minds from what they supposed to learn.

Accordingly, she said that PAYOWI and other groups including the government cannot do it all but rather it requires solidarity.

“We need safe space for girls, so, if you are experiencing any form of harassment from your teachers in school, we want you to speak it out, tell your parents about it or if you are afraid to tell your parents, tell your mentor if you have one or even your fellow students,” she told the girls.

She called on schools across the country to have strong PTAs that will help to tackle some of the issues that students face on campus so that students can have a safe learning environment and not a corrupt one.

She appreciated PAYOWI for giving her the opportunity to speak to students on the above topic.

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