Liberia: The Next Step

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Courtesy US Army Africa

Since the ousting of former President Charles Taylor in 2003, the Republic of Liberia has democratically elected a new administration in 2005, whereupon Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has been elected President. Although President Johnson Sirleaf faces severe challenges in rebuilding the country, including the reconciliation and reintegration of ex-combatants of the recent conflict into the Liberian society. In Liberia, up to 500,000 people were internally displaced during the country’s 14-year civil war.

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Courtesy Juan Freire

We must first examine the conditions in which individuals are living within their IDP camps, and see if there are any important cultural gender restrictions that have been over-looked, such as the location of men to women within the camps. If there are specific cultural gender restrictions, then humanitarian aid workers must adhere to these restrictions during IDP camp construction.

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Courtesy DFID – UK Department for International Development

One of the most important issues that must be addressed in the rehabilitation of Liberia, is the sexual assault and rape that women and young girls encountered throughout the country’s civil-war. According to Mary-Wynne Ashford’s The Impact of War on Women, systematic mass rape is used as a tool for ethnic cleansing and humiliation of the enemy. Necessary medical and psychiatric tools must be made available to provide treatment to those living with sexual abuse.

Accounts of severe psychiatric trauma, specifically PTSD, were noted in The World Health Organization’s Sexual Gender-Based Violence and Health Facility Needs Assessment recorded September 9-29, 2005. One woman’s account states: “I was forced to watch them open a pregnant woman stomachs and the baby taken out, butchered and cooked. They forced me to share the meat with them.” Another woman remembers: “The boys who raped me were very small that they couldn’t carry their guns. They raped me during one week. I am twice their mother. I feel ashamed to disclose what happened to me. I also feel that they laid a curse on me.”

Women and girls who suffer from the traumas of rape must receive both physical medical attention and psychiatric medical attention. I also suggest that the UN train and/or recruit female psychologists who specialize in rape and sexual assault, to work as humanitarian aids with the women recovering in Liberia.

I suggest female psychologists specifically because often times, women who suffer from rape, might feel less inclined to share their experiences with a therapist who is of the same gender as their attacker. Also, it might be culturally unacceptable for a woman in Liberia to be alone with a man other than her husband, even a psychiatrist.

Here, I note the importance of language and offer that our UN humanitarian aid workers be properly trained in the languages of Liberia, where in which over 30 languages are spoken.

The physical damage of those women effected by rape and sexual abuse demands proper medical care in the form of STD testing and treatment. According to the same account from the World Health Organization, many women complain of abnormal menstrual cycles, abdominal pain, infertility, and sores in around and their genitals – 8.4% are experiencing symptoms of vesico-vaginal fistula (VVF), 1.9% vaginal bleeding, 1.5% uterine prolapse and 1.3% bloody stools.

Humanitarian Aid Workers in Liberia must be well-trained in the language, culture and medical knowledge necessary to help aid the country’s rehabilitation process and any soliciting or abuse made against refugees must be held accountable. When helping to restore a country, you are helping to restore an individual’s and country’s humanity and the rehabilitation of Liberia must be treated with attentive care.

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