Liberia: Gender Ministry’s Exempt During COVID-19 Lockdown, Increases Sex & Domestic Violence, Says Child Rights Activist
Monrovia – Liberian child rights activist, Satta Fatumata Sheriff has frowned on the decision by the George Weah—led government to close the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection and declare it as non-essential during the ongoing COVID-19 lockdown.
In a statement Sunday, Sheriff, who in 2017 was elected female Speaker of the Liberian Children’s Parliament and Executive Director of Youth in Action for Peace and Empowerment (YAPE), said she is very concerned about the decision by the Weah administration to list the ministry as a nonessential institution during COVID-19 without putting any measure in place to address the needs of sexual abuse survivors at a time when Sexual Gender-based Violence cases are increasing across the Country.
Said Sheriff: “As people are asked to stay at home, the risk of intimate partner violence or sexual assault is likely to increase which significantly exposes women and children to the risk of domestic and sexual violence.”
“As people are asked to stay at home, the risk of intimate partner violence or sexual assault is likely to increase which significantly exposes women and children to the risk of domestic and sexual violence.”Satta Sheriff, Action for Justice and Human Rights (AJHR).
Her organization, YAPE, is a children and youth driven Nongovernmental Organization founded to advocate for Liberian Children, girls and other vulnerable groups in society. She is currently a recognized member of the fifty (50) most impacting young females Leaders in Africa 2017 (One World Foundation). Last year, the organization was rebranded into the Action for Justice and Human Rights (AJHR).
Ms. Sheriff, currently pursuing a degree in English and sociology with a concentration in criminology at the Wittenberg University in Springfield, Ohio, said the nonessential operation of the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection could prevent many women and children from reporting their abuse or from bringing their perpetrators forward to authority. “No one should be allowed to live in constant fear of being abused or assaulted at home due the government inability to acknowledge that domestic violence is an essential issue during COVID-19. The Gender Based Violence Division at the Ministry of Gender is an essential institution during this crisis, especially due to their mandate to fight SGBV, provide safe space for survivors through social services and psychosocial support and ensuring that perpetrators are brought to justice. The government cannot just close the Ministry and pretend as if, a silent domestic violence war isn’t happening in thousands of homes across Liberia. The government cannot close the Ministry of Gender and expect that domestic violence will vanish by itself during COVID-19.”
Sheriff averred that global experts including the World Health Organization have warned that when people are forced to stay inside shelter, the risk of intimate partner violence including sexual assault is likely to increase.
This is why she says sexual and gender-based violence is an essential service during this crisis. “People are going to need counseling, emotional and psychosocial support, therefore the Government must create a National SGBV Response System to meet survivors needs and to also encourage people to seek help when they experience domestic violence. This lockdown has given molesters a bigger opportunity to abuse their victims, and the closure of MOGCSP won’t help the situation because it denies survivors the chance to find safe space and support when indeed we have an entire Division at the ministry of Gender responsible to fight against Sexual and Domestic Violence.”
The activist said she is not asking the Ministry to come in physical contact with sick people but is pleading with authorities there to use their resources and do their job by providing SGBV support, referral and social counseling during this crisis through a remote means. “It’s time that the Ministry of Gender strengthen their call center, put in place an emergency SGBV response system and then encourage people to use their national sexual abuse hotline. It won’t hurt the Ministry to have these call centers and social workers working directly from home and ensuring that vulnerable women and children are protected from domestic violence during COVID-19.”
Sheriff said Liberia is no different from the other countries that are taking measures to prevent domestic violence. “We saw the reports few months ago before COVID-19, about the drastic increase in gender-based violence cases across Liberia, this is a clear sign that more and more women and children are exposed domestic and sexual violence during lockdown, we can’t sit quietly and do nothing. Now is the time for the Ministry of Gender to step-up and find new ways to approach sexual abuse during this lockdown. The government must find an accessible and functional medium for victims of domestic violence to access.”
“It’s time that the Ministry of Gender strengthen their call center, put in place an emergency SGBV response system and then encourage people to use their national sexual abuse hotline. It won’t hurt the Ministry to have these call centers and social workers working directly from home and ensuring that vulnerable women and children are protected from domestic violence during COVID-19.”Satta Sheriff, Action for Justice and Human Rights (AJHR).
Added Sheriff: “The recommended timeframe for evidence collection for a child abuse victim is 72 hours or three days, for adolescents and adults, it is about 120 hours or five days, but if the Ministry of Gender gender-based violence division is closed, how do we expect survivors and victims of abuse to report their abuse? Who do they report to? Who is going to facilitate SGBV services across the country? How do we hold perpetrators accountable when the Minster of Gender is silent/ considered nonessential during COVID-19? We already have a history of normalizing sexual harassment and a violent rape culture, let’s not take the rights of women and girls during this crisis for granted. Domestic and Sexual Violence is an essential issue during lockdown, therefore the institution responsible to handle SGBV must be considered an essential institution.”
Established in 2001 by an Act of the National Legislature, the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection amongst other things serves as a driving force of Government for the practicalization of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and its related instruments including UN Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW); the Convention on the Rights of Children (CRC); the AU Protocols on Women and Children, UNSCR 1325 on Women Peace and Security; and the Beijing Platform for Action. The Ministry is mandated to advise Government on all matters affecting the development and welfare of women and children as well as any other matters referred to it by the Government. The Ministry is divided into two Departments: Planning and Administration; and Research and Technical Services. Each department is headed by a Deputy Minister and assisted by an Assistant Minster. These Departments are stratified into Divisions and Units headed by Directors/Coordinators.