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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Women in Conflict Zones

Rape and sexual violence are commonly used as weapons of war. Women and their families living in these war and conflict zones are vulnerable to such violent attacks. Displaced individuals find themselves cut off from both medical and everyday resources, such as food and water. Common trips to fetch water become terrifying journeys where one could risk being raped, tortured, or even killed during times of war.

Together with my fellow classmates, we came up with two suggestions geared towards United States feminist groups that might help to aid these women and their families suffering in areas of conflict. We sought to address the basic necessities within these community that could be immediately addressed and expanded upon to further help women in crisis.

Our first idea was to establish a mobile community organization, similar to a “watch” group, that could walk women and children to and from sources of food and water as well as direct them to established “safe spaces” within their area of conflict. We hope to use social media to connect these citizens through blogs and Twitter, if they are available in these areas. If not, we would operate through safe organizations, such as places of worship, to distribute information on our community.

Our second idea, would be to establish a mobile medical unit that could reach women and their families in areas of conflict. This mobile medical unit would provide needs such as STD testing, rape treatment, pregnancy screenings, birth control, prenatal care and psychiatric treatment for PTSD.

In the hopes that our community would grow both within the area of conflict and the United States feminist organization we would be working with, we would seek to work with embassies in order to establish a demilitarized safe, neutral zone in the area of conflict. We hope to establish onsite grassroots activism as well as work with organizations outside the conflict zone to promote peace and safety for those living in these areas.

War, Rape, and The Power of Peace

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Courtesy FreedomHouse2

“I have seen war. I have seen war on land and sea. I have seen blood running from the wounded. I have seen men coughing out their gassed lungs. I have seen the dead in the mud. I have seen cities destroyed. I have seen 200 limping, exhausted men come out of line—the survivors of a regiment of 1,000 that went forward 48 hours before. I have seen children starving. I have seen the agony of mothers and wives. I hate war.” Our world has seen many wars since President Franklin D. Roosevelt made this address in the Chautauqua Institution Amphitheater in August of 1936.

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Courtesy babasteve

War does not solely belong to men on the front lines. Today most of the casualties of war are women and children. These displaced groups of people find themselves and their families vulnerable to attack. One of the most common forms of attack against women and young girls during times of war and conflict is rape and sexual assault. These violations are used systematically as weapons of war.

The staggering rape statistics of war since World War II, reflect how common rape is committed in areas of war and conflict. Especially when taking into consideration that these rapes have been reported. Many rapes go unreported, similarly to rapes committed all over the world, and many victims of rape are killed by their assailants. So even though the statistics are staggering, they are more than likely dramatically less than the actual number of rapes and sexual assaults committed.

Throughout the conflicts in The Democratic Republic of the Congo, rape was reported from women aged 3 years old, to 80 years old and acts of rape were committed in front of family members, included forced incest and gang-rape.

The Republic of Liberia, experienced a devastating civil war where, again, rape and sexual assault were used as forms of weaponry against women. But the women of Liberia, exhausted by the violence and destruction, decided to fight back to bring peace to their country. Women from different religious backgrounds (Muslims and Christians) gathered together to pray for peace. Without weapons or the use of violence, these women used their voices and their prayers and their solidarity to fight against the tyranny they had known for so many years in their shattered country.

Leymah Gbowee and the Women of Liberia show us through the brilliant documentary, Pray the Devil Back to Hell how grassroots activism can alter the history of nations.