Exactly five years ago, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Government of Netherlands provided funding for a program codenamed Funding Leadership Opportunities for Women (FLOW) to be piloted in Liberia, Burundi and Guatemala. The piloting was achieved under the respective auspecies of IBIS, Oxfam and Impunity Watch. The FLOW Program was meant to fight sexual and gender-based violence, promote women’s political participation and increase their voices in leadership and decision making. This program had three key global priority areas, including masculinities, violence against women and girls (VAWG) and transitional justice.
NIPO IN PERSPECTIVE
TheNational Institute for Public Opinion (NIPO) is a local non-governmental organization established in 1999. Since its funding, NIPO has gone through successive transitional stages and from just a general human rights organization, it has come to build a strong niche as one of Liberia’s powerful civil society voices advancing the rights of women and children in southeastern Liberia. Its focus is to transform Liberia into a society that respects and guarantees the rights of rural women and children. This institution has implemented lots of projects for a number of national and international donor partners. A few of them include: Norwegian Human Rights Fund (NHRF), National Endowment for Democracy (NED), Fund for Global Human Rights (FGHR), Non-State Actor Secretariat at the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning, UNDP-Liberia, United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) and Oxfam-IBIS. Under the FLOW Program, NIPO was funded to work in two districts of Sinoe County: the Commonwealth District of Greenville and Juarzon.
MAJOR ACTIVITIES IMPLEMENTED BY NIPO
Technical Capacity-Building Trainings-under here, the NIPO provided training in a number of areas including sexual and gender-based violence, data collection, collation, analysis and reporting and transformative leadership. Other training opportunities provided by the program included mainstreaming gender justice in media reporting and programming, peer-to-peer training for youth leaders and paralegal training for community leaders. Approximately, a total of 300 service providers and community leaders benefited from the training sessions. Health service providers, education authorities, criminal justice actors, community leaders, paramount chiefs, traditional council representatives and some members of the joint security benefited from the trainings. On the overall, the training sessions were meant to promote women’s rights and gender justice and to bring to end SGBV, harmful traditional practices and hyper masculinity.
Impacts on Sexual and gender-based violence and gender justice
Throughout the years, these training exercises improved public service delivery mainly amongst frontline service providers in the fight against sexual and gender-based violence and impacted the overall functioning of the criminal justice system. The level of professionalism exhibited when health service providers and criminal justice actors are dealing with cases of sexual and gender-based violence, domestic violence and harmful traditional practices sharply improved. We hardly hear things like bond fees, arrest fees let alone hearing police or court officers requesting for money to make an arrest or issue a warrant. There has been no case or rumor of rape or sexual harrassment within the criminal justice system as reported in other counties. Also, cases of domestic violence and persistent non-support have sharply reduced because the program ensured that males were made to account for their actions in the court of law. Gender justice was an issue of priority in the county and we can largely credit this to the FLOW program.
Violence against women (VAW) cases overwhelmed social controls at the community levels and also overwhelmed the criminal justice system at the county level as there was influx of cases coming from everywhere before the start of the program. But because of the professional exhibition and comportment of criminal justice actors in the county, where they now place premium on sexual and gender-based violence cases, it has translated into improved behavior patterns among men and boys, thereby expanding the space for the protection and promotion of women’s rights. The county attorney of Sinoe could not hold back his words at the closure of the FLOW program when he indicated that the kind of coordination and collaboration he sees in the county among criminal justice actors and community people when it comes to sexual and gender-based violence was unprecedented! Lamenting the closure of the program, he furthered that since he picked up a career as a prosecutor and in all the places where he had served, the Sinoe story was quite different. He used the occasion to appreciate FLOW partners for the great achievement but appealed for extension.
Impacts on Women’s Political Participation
Training in women’s political participation also resulted in some tangible outcomes. Two beneficiaries of these trainings were eventually appointed to leadership and decision-making positions within the county. Madam Mary Saryenneh was appointed superintendent for Butaw District while Madam Barbara N. Kieh was appointed assistant superintendent for development of the county. These two women leaders were members of the Sinoe County Women Platform prior to their nomination and appointment to these top posts. Additionally, the training sessions capacitated the Sinoe Women Platform in areas such as advocacy and lobbying, skills which they utilized to acquiring a permanent seat at the Special County Sitting where major decisions are made. We can also maintain that as a result of our women’s political participation initiatives, a female was able to rise up to the occasion to challenge a host of men for the very fist time in the just ended midterm senatorial elections in Sinoe. Though she didn’t win, Madam Grace Scotland Brimah secured significant amounts of votes which situate her as a potential political leader in the county. Today, the voices of women are getting bigger and their chances of playing leading political roles in Sinoe have great prospects to watch out for.
Impacts on the Criminal Justice System and Gender Justice
The Material Support component ofthe program boosted the morale of public service providers as NIPO provided most needed working materials such as pens, realms of sheets, typewriter ribbons, ledger books, legal papers, communication cards, and folders of all kinds. These things improved service delivery and reduced constraints from service providers, especially criminal justice actors. The usual difficulties associated with having materials to effectively carry out their duties to the population was eased during the course of the project. This also eased burden on survivors and their relatives as they carried no extra burden at paying for sheets to record their cases, providing transportation for police or court officers to effect arrests or issue warrants. This also improved community policing and increased collaboration between the police and community dwellers. It made the police to truly become the friends of the communities and made away with the fears that taking cases to court can be burdensome and intimidating. This further contributed to increased gender-justice with the Johnny Town Murder Trial as a classical case in point.
Impacts on Community Sensitization and Awareness
Celebration of international human rights days such as the day of the girl child, international human rights day and the 16 days of activism and community sensitization and awareness increased grassroots sensitization among the local population about those days and gave the program strong visibility within grassroots communities. These celebrations and community awareness exercises have kept local communities at red alert, where they are sharply on the watch for cases of sexual and gender-based violence. They helped the local population to overcome their fear of stigma and are now freely reporting cases without fear of reprisal. They also helped local communities to overcome their fear and apprehension about the criminal justice system. Community sensitization and awareness took the FLOW project closed to the local people, thus making it a household name.
Strengthening the Sinoe County Women Platform was one of the biggest achievements made by the FLOW Program. This platform has now become the biggest voice in the advocacy for the rights of women and girls in the county. In fact, it was the platform that raised the red alert and began advocacy about the case in Johnny Town where three women were abused and violated by some towns people on allegations of witchcraft. This case ended with the conviction and sentencing of seven men for forty years each.
Besides, as a result of stern advocacy, the platform was able to secure permanent seat on the Special County Sitting where major decisions are made for the county. It is apt to mention that the platform is the most ideal factor for sustaining the FLOW program. As the most manifest function of the FLOW program, the platform needs the support of all stakeholders in making sure that the great gains are up kept.
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Disclaimer: This article does not in any way reflect the view of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands