International Alert recently brought together in Gbarnga, Liberia, members of the traditional and formal justice communities to share experiences and expertise in order to improve access to justice for female victims of sexual violence, including both women and girls.
In Liberia, as in many parts of West Africa, women and girls suffer high rates of gender-based violence (GBV). After more than a decade of civil unrest and systemic lack of state capacity, the country’s structures and institutions of justice have broken down and are under-serving victims of this violence. Because of these inadequacies and the mistrust in the state’s security structures and cultural conventions, sexual crimes against women and girls are often reported to traditional leaders rather than to the police or magistrates.
As part of a sub-regional project on the promotion of human security for women and girls in the Mano River basin of West Africa (Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea), International Alert organised a workshop with traditional chiefs, local magistrates, members of family support police units, and community animators to learn more about legal and psychosocial support mechanisms for victims and discuss ways in which they can all work together more effectively to protect the women and girls of West Africa.
During the two-day event, community animators - members of the community trained to guide victims through the process of redress and to advocate for the protection of women and girls - met with traditional chiefs to discuss how to deal with cases of sexual violence. They then discussed with the police and the magistrates to identify gaps in the current procedure that needed to be improved in order for it to conform to the national law on GBV. The group then worked together to identify local providers of psychosocial support for women and girls and made a commitment to work in concert to provide improved, comprehensive support and justice for victims of this crime.
The workshop was very successful and Alert received very positive feedback from all participants. “Workshops like this give local communities more knowledge and the opportunity to use this to make connections and find their own solutions to address the problems they face in their communities”, commented Jackson Speare, Regional Coordinator for Alert’s Human Security Project in West Africa. As a matter of fact, one traditional chief from Voinjama (Liberia) remarked that thanks to the workshop he learned more about what others in the community were doing to help women and girls and said that he would be contacting the animators for assistance in the future. A traditional chief from Zorzor (Liberia) asked instead the group for help with a problem he was facing in his community: he noticed that a woman was being abused by her husband, but any attempt to intervene had met with threats of violence against the chief himself and the local police too. The group suggested that efforts should focus on offering counseling to the husband to identify and address the cause of his aggressions. Finally, a Mandingo chief from Voinjama (Liberia) made a presentation of what he had learned at the workshop about GBV and access to justice for women and girls to the worshippers at the local mosque of which he is the Imam.
This workshop was part of Alert’s Human Security Project in West Africa, Empowering women and girls to alleviate the security threats in their communities: promoting human security in Mano River Union countries. This project seeks to empower citizens to challenge actual and perceived threats to human security and personal safety experienced by vulnerable members of the Mano River Union’s local communities, in particular women and girls.