The Gbowee Peace Foundation Africa (GPFA) recently organized a lessons-learned summit for their Feminist Policy Lab. The event saw 12 young women conducting research and presenting policy papers on various pressing issues, including the inhumane treatment of detained new mothers in hospital facilities, the lack of proper healthcare for female inmates in prisons, and sexual harassment in the educational system.
By: Mae Azango [email protected]
The summit, held at the Musu Spot in Congo Town over the weekend, brought together UN Women, government agencies, women, men, and young people to address these critical concerns.
Madam Leymah Gbowee, the President and founder of GPFA, reflected on her experience as a new mother 30 years ago when she witnessed the difficulties faced in hospitals. She shared a story of encountering a woman who had given birth but couldn’t afford to pay her hospital bills and was subsequently detained. Disturbed by such incidents, Madam Gbowee decided to take action.
She discovered a list of women detained in hospitals due to their inability to pay bills exceeding one million Liberian dollars. Determined to help, she raised funds and paid the bills, providing relief for over US $6,000 worth of expenses. One seventeen-year-old mother even expressed her gratitude, explaining that she believed she would have died in the hospital if her bills hadn’t been paid.
During her discussions with hospital administrators, Madam Gbowee learned about the challenges they faced. One major problem was that pregnant women who hadn’t received adequate antenatal care were often denied services in many hospitals. However, the administrator assured her that their hospital accepted all pregnant women, including those referred by the government, regardless of their ability to pay. Consequently, many patients were detained until their bills were settled.
Madam Gbowee’s encounter prompted her to consider the importance of documenting and tracking activities related to women’s issues. She emphasized the need for policy papers to effect change, citing the success of the rape campaign in 2017, which lacked documentation. Seeking to empower the next generation of women, she expressed her desire to expand the program to rural counties and secure funding for this purpose.
During the summit, the feminist Fellows presented their research findings. Group one, consisting of Doreen A. O’Diaji, Mojorie N. Wright, Nusone E. Perkins, and Rammie P. Klan, focused on the detaining of new mothers in hospital facilities. Their research aimed to investigate claims of detention without proper documentation. They discovered that detained mothers faced emotional trauma and delayed treatment due to demands for items such as detergents, alcohol, gloves, and needles. Failure to provide these items jeopardized the health of both mother and child.
The group recommended that the Ministry of Finance Development and Planning increase the budget for the healthcare sector. They also suggested a holistic approach to address drugs and material shortages within healthcare, calling for a ban on maternal detention as seen in Burundi. Furthermore, they proposed the establishment of a National Health Equity Fund to address systemic issues in the healthcare sector.
Group two, comprising Courage N. Wilson, Laura Kolaker, Saraphen B. Dahn, and Abigail A.A. Dorbor, presented their research on female access to rehabilitation and proper healthcare. They highlighted the challenges faced by Liberia’s prisons, including overcrowding, understaffing, limited rehabilitation programs, and insufficient funds. Female inmates specifically suffered from poor sanitation, limited food, inadequate healthcare services, and a shortage of nurses and doctors. The group recommended increasing the budget for prisons, providing adequate drugs and laboratory facilities, and bolstering the prison health workforce.
Group three, consisting of Blessing M. Collins, Jennifer Scot, Rochelle M. Richards, and Wilnet Z Gaye, focused on sexual harassment in Liberia’s educational system. Their research revealed that several universities lacked clear policies on sexual harassment, leading to underreporting due to fear and stigma. They urged the Ministry to establish programs that provide safe spaces for students to report incidents and ensure appropriate punishment for offenders.
The summit provided an interactive platform for participants to ask questions and offer additional recommendations. It served as an important step toward addressing these pressing issues and working towards a more equitable and just society.