‘Girls Participation, Empowerment Lingers in Liberia’ – Girls’ Rights Advocate Tells Dutch Parliament
MONROVIA – The Girls Advocacy Alliance or GAA was launched in Liberia in 2015 as a platform to empower vulnerable girls and young women to tackle effect of massive violation of their rights-a pervasive aspect of Liberia’s 14-year civil war-that continued to haunt girls to date.
The capacity building training of girl’s rights advocate and dialogue with the Dutch Parliament in the Netherlands late August to early September this year was an opportunity to take stock of how far Liberia has progressed since 2015 in upholding fundamental rights and freedoms, and empowering girls.
“The youths, girls and young women in Liberia constitute a whole lot of capacity, more superior than the challenges confronting the nation but up to now, we the girls and young women are yet to be part of key decision-making processes of our society” observed National Children and Youth Advisory Board Chairperson (NCYAB), Pauline F. Gartor, at the dialogue with the Dutch Parliamentarians.
The GAA which is a 5-year joint project led by the Dutch offices of Plan International, and Defense for Children and funded by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs just have one more year-2020-to draw down its curtains. The project aims to promote equal rights and opportunities for girls and young women in 10 countries spread across Asia and Africa including Liberia. The NCYAB boss pleaded to the Dutch lawmakers for the continuance of GAA activities in Liberia, outlining the issues still permeating the social fabrics of the Liberian society that needs to be tackled.
“We have to galvanize national authorities and the communities together on the side of the law that protect girls and young women; fight for inclusion of youth, girls and young women in national decision making; provide educational and economic empowerment for girls and let them drive the change that is needed in the Liberian society; create a community where predator of girls and young women will have no space” she said.
Rampant sexual violence against women and girls is yet another major problem still facing the country. In 2014, even in the heat of Ebola, a total of 1,139 gender-based violence cases were reported nationwide, of which 720 reported cases were rape, and 657 involved victims under the age of 18 years. Ms. Gartor frown on the continued sexual violation of girls in Liberia and attributed increased in reporting rape cases as part of the change being inspired by advocacy lead my girls themselves under the GAA and other actors.
“Today traditional leaders are reporting rape, enrolling their girls’ children in school, talking about child marriage, and other forms of violence against girls. Elders of communities, town chief and zoes are speaking out against ills affecting girls and young women. All of these are being achieve because of our advocacy and initiatives led by us. However, we still have a long way to go” said Ms. Gartor.
For a while now, there has been growing concern in the country over increasing number of incidents of violence against girls like rape, resulting in injuries, and loss of lives. Ahead of the end of the GAA, the prevalence of gender-based violence and discrimination remains high in Liberia, posing a threat to the survival of girls across the country. The vulnerabilities that girls and young women face (sexual violence, early and forced marriages, forced labor, trafficking, and access to education) still required more effort to combat. The GAA initiatives for girls, and by girls, to increase and strengthen their participation in the socio-economic sphere component remain a challenge in Liberia. Mr. Gartor is hopeful that the Dutch government would approve the extension of the GAA to possibly another five years.
“We need to change the narrative. More time is still required for us to do that. For instance, how can you organize advocacy or make policy about child marriage without my input as a girl child? How can you address teenage pregnancy when you do not bring the teenager on board to tell you what the issues are? The extension of this GAA will provide the enabling environment for us to do more advocacies to hold our duty bearers feet to the fire. We need to be a part of the process and not a mere recipient. For fact that we have been recipient for too long and yet the issues still abound should tell you that method is wrong and must be changed. We think that method way to address our issues as girls and young women is to include us at every stage of the process for change,” she said.