-As Leymah Gbowee terms GBV fight as a “political decoration”

By Jerromie S. Walters

Like many other countries around world, Liberia, through the Ministry of Gender, Children, and Social Protection, and itspartners on Saturday, November 25, 2023, officially launched the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence. 

As violence against women remains a burning issue across the globe, the 16 Days of Activism is intended to heighten the campaign. It is a global campaign rooted in the first Women’s Global Leadership Institute, advocating for an end to Gender-Based Violence. 

Liberia’s launch of the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence – 2023, took place at the Samuel K. Doe (SKD)Sports Complex GYM, in Paynesvillle. The campaign focuseson the Global Theme: “UNiTE! Invest to Prevent Violence against Women & Girls,” and the National Theme: “Empower Women, Secure Our Nation: Invest Locally to Prevent Violence against Women and Girls.”

In her expert opinion, 2011 Nobel Peace Prize recipient Leymah Gbowee, characterized the fight for the protection of women’s rights in Africa as a political decoration for many governments.This is because she says it often surfaces mainly during electoral periods, or major occasions that involve donors’ funds. However, she’s hoping that there will be a time when it will be 16 days of  sharping some of the gains that the world has made, instead of consistently talking about the challenges that continue exist.

She tells the Voice of America (VOA), “If I may say, it is a political decoration for many governments, but for the women who are impacted by these crisis all over, it is life ensuring, and what they live for so on our continent you see more and more women are advocating, they are raising the issues, they are not stopping.” Madam Gbowee continued- “Even where there’s no fund to do this work, it’s like a daily thing because that’s the only thing they can do to safeguard themselves and the girls that will come after them. It’s still a huge issue for us as women in the continent, and I’m hopeful that one day, it will not just be the political gains but action will follow some of the political talks.”

She acknowledged that international bodies, including the UN, AU, ECOWAS, have the required written policies to combat all forms of violence and discrimination against women, but as it is- she recommends the need for those policy papers and documents to be turned into what she termed as “Actionable agenda”. “I think what is important now is for us to take all of those policy documents and turned them into actionable agenda, followed by funding and followed by a measure that is no longer about impunity, so we need to take it from the paper.” She adds- It’s very good for us to celebrate 16Days of Activism, but I dream of a day that 16Days of activism will be 16 days sharping some of the gains that we have made instead of consistently talking about the challenges that we continue to face.”

The 2011 Nobel Peace Prize Winner stressed, “Like everyone have said before, over and again, “women’s rights are human’s rights,” but it’s very important to note that for any community,  any society, any nation to do well, the women must be doing well.”

At Saturday’s launch of the global campaign in Liberia, Liberia’s Gender Minister, Williametta Sayde-Tarr, referenced the importance of the 16Days of Activism, and admonished the need for women’s rights to be respected and protected. She hailed the government’s partners that have steadfastly worked with the Ministry in addressing women’s issues.

As this year’s theme dwells on women empowerment, she stressed its importance and encouraged the need for Liberians to remain committed to women empowerment and the protection of their rights. She wants Liberians to use the 16Days of activism for a future of hope. Madam Williametta Sayde-Tarr, described  the 16 days of activism as an apt period when Liberia and its partners can conglomerate to heighten the voices of women. 

At the most imperative juncture of the event, UN Women Liberia Country Representative, Madam Comfort Lamptey, officially launched the 16Days of Activism.  Like the Gender Minister, UN Women Liberia Country Representative, Madam Comfort Lamptey, says there’s a paramount need to maintain and build male allies, collaboration, including the private sector, to unlock financing, and gender responsive budgeting. 

With a common and joint commitment, she foresee a more secure space for women in the coming years. “Together, we can work toward a Liberia freed of gender based violence,” Madam Lamptey articulates.

In a special statement from the UN Secretary General, Dr. Peter Clement, the Acting United Nations Resident Coordinator for Liberia, concurred with this year’s theme of the campaign that calls for substantive action by all to end GBV. “Violence against women is a horrific violation of human rights, a public health crisis and a major obstacle to sustainable development.”  If Sexual and Gender Based violence is to be minimized and subsequently brought to an end in Liberia, and the world at large, he says there need for proactive support by all, gender sensitive legislations, and comprehensive policies that will support the protection of women’s rights remain intrinsic.

He encouraged the need for everyone to stand with women, discourage violence against them, and positively push their empowerment and political participation. If all of the above are adhered to, he predicts an inclusive Liberian society. In the keynote address at the occasion, Cllr. Issac George, Director, Sex Crimes Unit, Ministry of Justice, recommended the need for the Institutionalization and teaching of major laws that reflect the protections of Women’s rights in secondary schools. This is because he believes women at all levels, are exposed to all forms of violence. He highlighted the government’s gains in the protection of women’s rights, and assured its commitment in years to come.

Concomitantly, the European Union (EU) Representative at the occasion  emphasized the global body’s commitment to standing up against all forms of violence against women. “We will only live in a true equal world when all women and girls can live . To ensure an end to gender based violence (SGBV), the EU says it requires perpetrators facing Justice for their actions, and combating it through other means. They condemned the use of SGBV as a weapon of war. 

The occasion was graced by members of the Diplomatic corps, civil society organisations, and scores of other Liberians. In separate remarks, they spoke in solidarity with the women. The event was also lightly up with an awesome traditional performance by the Liberia Crusaders of Peac, headed by its Executive Director, Queen Juli Endee.

Mamena Kai, the Acting Deputy Minister for Children and Social Protection at the Ministry of Gender, in June of this year, disclosed that for the first quarter in 2023, the Ministry recorded 759 sexual and gender based violence cases in Liberia. She made the disclosure while addressing the Ministry of Information Culture Affairs and Tourism regular Thursdays press briefing. According to the young Minister, the total number of cases the Ministry has recorded for the first quarter, which is January to March is 759 cases. Concisely, she said in January they recorded 310, in February they recorded 309, and in March, they recorded 140 SGBV cases.

These 16 days symbolically connect with November 25, International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, and December 10, International Human Rights Day. The days in between are dedicated to taking action against all forms of violence.