For women’s full participation in conflict resolution and peacebuilding

An initiative from Kvinna till Kvinna

Liberia

The conflict

LiberiaPopulation: 3 836 000

Average lifetime: 55

Infant mortality rate: 78/1000

Literacy: Women 54,5 %, Men 63,7 %

 

UNESCO statistics 2009

The geographical area of West Africa, which later became Liberia, was established 1822 as an outpost for returning freed slaves from America. It became an independent country in 1847 with the help of the American Colonisation Society. Descendents of the freed slaves, generally called Americo-Liberians, comprise about 10 percent of the population. They maintained social and political control over the indigenous population of the country until the 1980s and this unequal distribution of power lay beneath the country´s later conflicts, which culminated in civil war.

Between 1989 and 2003 Liberia suffered a brutal war, with an estimate of over 250 000 people killed and up to one-third of the population displaced. Many combatants were adolescents and children. During the war social norms and values vanished, and the social structures has still not been completely repaired. Taking into consideration that Liberia has a very young population, the average age is 18 years, this lack of social norms creates problems in the stabilization of the society.

Women’s participation in the peace process

The signing of the peace agreement came through after a massive collective demonstration by the Liberian women´s movement, pushing the negotiators to show a result before leaving the scene. The Golden Tulip declaration, written and adopted by representatives of various Liberian women’s organizations, marked the culmination of more than a decade of struggle by women´s organisations to gain recognition in formal peace processes and to influence male-dominated peace accords. The declaration outlined the women´s demands for their inclusion into all structures and institutions both during the transition and as a part of post-conflict society.

The inauguration of Africa’s first democratically elected female president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, in 2005 was furthermore regarded as a great success, bringing the country forward on the right path and also favoring the Liberian women. However, challenges in making sure installed policies and laws are adhered to and implemented take time and resources. After 14 years of devastating civil war, needs for rehabilitation and habilitation are huge and costly.

How has the conflict affected women?

Inequalities in the society continue to hold back sustainable development and peace; gender discrimination being one form. Widespread patriarchal beliefs leads to limitations for women, for example through discrimination in practices related to property and inheritance within customary law (more under Discrimination within legal systems further down) and lower level of education.

For example: If a man dies, and he was married under customary law (which most people are), his wife has no right to inherit him. Instead everything goes to his male relatives. It’s then up to the good will of these relatives if the widow are allowed to stay in her house and keep growing food on its land to feed herself and her children. And when it comes to education girls don’t have the same access to school as boys. Education is expensive and when they can’t afford all their children to go to school, many families choose to only let their sons get an education. Without access to property, or the knowledge of how to read and write, it’s almost impossible to have any influence over the society.

Power and decision-making

2011 elections were a backlash for women’s political participation. Among over 900 candidates only 105 were women. In addition the election result shows that only 7 out of 73 posts in the House of Representatives, and 1 out of the 15 new posts in the Senate, were filled by women. Liberia does not have an elected local governmental structure and there are few opportunities to participate in the formal political structures outside of Monrovia. Which means that the most common entrance point for women´s political participation is closed.

Gender-based violence

Women and girls was especially targeted as victims during the war and it is estimated that as many as 75 percent were subjected to some sort of sexual and gender-based violence. And gender-based violence continues to be a major obstacle for enabling women’s rights and equality in Liberia. The prolonged war has contributed to an increased level of violence in the society, but the practice of violence against women also stems from deeply rooted patriarchal cultural traditions. Harmful practices such as Trial by ordeal, witchcraft and female genital mutilation are also common.

Discrimination within legal systems

In Liberia statutory and customary legal systems are acting together.  The constitution states that customary law is applicable only in areas where it does not directly contravene statutory law, but the rural Liberian traditional courts often serve as first instance and the knowledge of the statutory system is low. The lack of capacity and credibility of the formal court system at local levels, further endorses customary courts being the relevant justice institutions for the majority of the population.

This puts women in a very disadvantaged position. With almost no female personnel in customary courts, discriminatory attitudes are common. For example remedies for domestic violence under customary law are non-existent, because realities of domestic violence are not recognized.