– In commemoration of the International Women Human Rights Defenders’ Day

By Jerromie S. Walters

In commemoration of the International Women Human Rights Defenders Day, as part of the observance of the 16Days of Activism, the United Nations (UN), honors 29 civil society organizations for their commitment over the years, in the fight against all forms of violence against women.

The CSOs were honored Wednesday, December 6, 2023, at a formal ceremony at the One UN House in Sinkor. In a remark prior to the certification of the honorees, Ms. Bidisha Pillai, the Resident Representative of the UNFPA, venerated the different local NGOs, and emphasized the need for them to do more in to bring an end to violence against women. To heighten the fight against sexual and gender based violence, Ms. Bidisha Pillai,  recommended more awareness, and reassured the UNFPA’s commitment to the strive against all forms of violence.

Amongst the Women Rights Organizations honored are: Rescue Women Liberia (RWL), Community Health Education and Social Services (CHESS), Progressive Youth for Community Safety initiative (PYCOSI), Care Foundation Lliberia Inc, Rural Integrated Center for Community Empowerment (RICCE), Institute for Research and Democratic Development, Medica Liberia, Women NGO Secretariat of Liberia (WONGOSOL), and ActionAid Liberia.

Others are- Women Human Rights Defenders Network, Women in Peacebuilding Network (WANEP), Southeastern Women Development Association (SEWODA), Lofa Women Network Liberia Inc. (LOWON-L), Liberia Network of people living with HIV (LibNeP+), Inc., Women Development and Youth Education Center (WODYEC), Humanity Care Liberia17. Sisters Hand Liberia (SHL), Liberia Cross Border Women, National Union Organization of the Disabled (NUOD), Inc., Liberia Crusader For Peace, Plan International Liberia, Promoting Public and Social Development in Health (PPSDPH), We4Self, Liberia Women Empowerment Network (LWEN), Defense for Children International -Liberia, United Funding and Development for Underage Mothers (UFDUM), Helping Our People Excel (HOPE) and the Association of Female Lawyers of Liberia (AFELL).

During the event, a panel discussion was held amongst CSOs officials, concisely on the topic: “Why funding Women’s Organizations prevents violence against women in Liberia.” Moderated by Ms. Patricia Jallah Scott, and Deodata Mukazayire, the panelists- Ms. Caroline Bowah of the Liberia Feminist Forum and Ms. Yah Parwon, the Country Director of Medica Liberia, echoed the essentiality of Women’s Organizations being funded to prevent violence against women, and say it is crucial because they have the expertise but sadly lack the funding to do the job.

More to Ms. Bowah and Parwon on the panel, were Deputy Minister Alice Howard Johnson of the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection and Cllr. Tonieh Talery Wiles, Chairperson, Women Human Rights Defenders (WHRDs) Network. They tell the partners that they (Women) understand the issues, they are the first responders, and accordingly in the trenches.

The women justified their potential to end sexual and gender based violence against women if adequately financially, as they say they are more connected to the issues and concomitantly see challenges women and marginalized groups are confronted with.

Delivering the United Nations (UN) Secretary General’s message on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against women, UN Resident Coordinator , Ms. Christine Umutoni, characterized violence against women as a horrific violation of human rights, a public health crisis, and a major obstacle to sustainable development.

Quoting the UN Secretary General, she says it is persistent, widespread – and worsening, especially from sexual harassment and abuse to femicide and it takes many forms.

“But all are rooted in structural injustice, cemented by millennia of patriarchy.

We still live in a male-dominated culture that leaves women vulnerable by denying them equality in dignity and rights.”

She stated- “We all pay the price: our societies are less peaceful, our economies less prosperous, our world less just. But a different world is possible. This year’s theme of the UNiTE campaign – “Invest to Prevent Violence against Women & Girls” – calls on all of us to take action. Support legislation and comprehensive policies that strengthen the protection of women’s rights across the board. Ramp up investments in prevention and support to women’s rights organization. Listen to survivors and end impunity for perpetrators everywhere. Stand with women activists and promote women’s leadership at every stage of decision-making. Together, let us stand up and speak out. Let’s build a world that refuses to tolerate violence against women anywhere, in any form, once and for all.”

In her own words, Ms. Christine Umutoni, emphasized that the 16 Days of Activism campaign which runs from the 25th of

November to the 10h of December every year, reminds that gender-based violence is a serious violation of human rights, as reports have also shown that women and girls are highly and differently affected by gender-based violence.

The UN Resident Coordinator explained that violence against women and girls is also a serious problem In Liberia, as she referenced the Intimate partner violence in the country.

“Intimate partner violence is very high, with 60 percent of women aged 15-49 having experienced physical violence and 33percent experienced physical violence in the last 12 months. UN staff in Liberia are working around the clock to ensure that violence against women is prevented. On a day like this, I would like to deeply thank all UN staff for your contribution in ensuring that women and girls in Liberia live in an environment free from violence.”

However, she says the UN alone cannot achieve this ambitious role, as she states that Women’s rights human rights defenders are one category of the multiple partners in the cause. Ms. Umutoni says they are essential partner in tackling gender-based violence and driving progress toward a more equitable and violence-free world for women and girls. “The UN acknowledges that being a human rights defender is a difficult task. The demanding work expected from defenders, including providing life-saving services to survivors of gender- based violence and driving policy change in ending violence against women and girls, is often underfunded.”

In the overview of the Women Human Rights Defenders and Women’s Rights Organizations, Mme Ghoma Karloweah, narrated that human rights defenders (WHRDs) are all women and girls working on any human rights issues (“women defenders” and “girl defenders”)., and people of all genders who work to promote women’s rights and rights related to gender equality. In recognition of the global Women Human Rights Defenders Day, observed annually on November 29 during the 16 Days of Activism against gender-based violence, she re-emphasized that Human Rights Defenders have been on the United Nations (UN) agenda for several decades. Over 13 years of negotiations concluded in the UN General Assembly adopting the UN Declaration on Human Rights

Mme Ghoma Karloweah: “Defenders in 1998, marking a historic achievement. It was the first UN instrument to acknowledge the importance and legitimacy of the work of human rights defenders and their need for better protection. The adoption of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders has provided recognition to human rights defenders and increased their visibility, paving the way for the establishment of a UN mechanism for their protection.”

She continued- “WHRDS individual and collective action has been pivotal in addressing discrimination and inequality and advancing civiI, political, economic, social and cultural rights, including in the context of prevention, peace and security and sustainable development. They have been at the forefront of social justice movements towards genuine social changes that have benefited everyone. Despite the adoption of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders 20 years ago, the challenges facing human rights defenders have not diminished, nor has the indisputable logic behind the Declaration transformed.”

Although institutional resources for the promotion and protection of defenders within the United Nations, she says regional organizations, and national systems have grown in the last two decades, and they remain insufficient to address ongoing human rights violations globally. Although restrictions of and attacks on civic space affect all defenders, Madam Mme Ghoma Karloweah, tells her audience that WHRDS are specifically targeted and face additional and specific obstacles, risks, violations and impacts

Mme Ghoma Karloweah: “This year, the UN Gender Theme Group recognizes and honors outstanding organizations that have demonstrated commitment and made significant contributions to the cause of women’s rights and the fight against gender-based violence with the support of the United Nations. Given the unique challenges this group of defenders tace, it is important to deepen support and recognition of their work, and strengthen protection mechanisms, including at local and international levels, to their specific concerns. Today, at One UN, we recognize 29 Women’s Rights and Women-led organizations for your hard work. We are proud of your commitment and contributions to preventing and responding to gender-based violence crimes here in Liberia.”

Unleashing her joy about her prestigious United Nations’ honor, Amb. Endee described it as a motivation to do more. “It gives us the zest to let our distracters know that we are not going anywhere, we are right here, doing the things we do best. We will continue to do what we do best, to serve our people and our nation.”

“I tell my distracters that I’m going to be doing more. This is an encouragement from the United Nations to do more in my own life and the Liberia Crusaders for Peace (LCP), rebrand Liberia Crusaders for Peace with a five years strategic plan so I am grateful for this honor in 2023, after working almost three decades.”

Going forward, she vows to effectuate more efforts to the fight against gender based violence, as well as the inclusion of men in said quest. “We need to bring in the men, we need to have discussions with the men, dialogue with the boys, dialogue with the legislature and many stakeholders, considering that it’s not all women in the room, you need to bring the men in the room; have a discussion and make the men he for she. At the same, make them positive gate keepers.”

Still overwhelmed by the uniquity it comes with, she acclaimed the United Nations, the National Council of Chiefs and Elders of Liberia, the Liberia Crusaders for Peace, and partners that have aided her endeavor to heighten calls for peace, gender equality and promote the culture and tradition of Liberia.