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.

Sexuality and Choice

Have you ever thought of your sexuality as a choice? I’m generalizing here, but if you are a self-identified “straight” person, my guess is that you have never thought of your sexuality as a matter of choice. You probably couldn’t look back into your past and identify the moment where you proclaimed, “Yes, I’m going to be a self-identified biologically ordered woman who likes self-identified biologically ordered men” or vice versa.  But then again, have you investigated whether or not heterosexuality has been forced into your society so that you have normalize this form of sexuality?

In her work Compulsory Heterosexuality and the Lesbian Existence theorist Adrienne Rich suggests that we take a closer look into what we perceive to be normal in our society. “I am suggesting that heterosexuality needs to be recognized and studied as a political institution” (Rich, 637).

Within this political institution, Rich notes violence towards women and how it is used as a form of control in a compulsory heterosexual world. Could we then go even further with this argument to suggest that violence towards women enforces heterosexuality? “I do not wish to psychologize here, but rather to identify sources of male power” (Rich, 638).

Within a compulsory heterosexual world, individuals are extremely limited with choice. Women are surrounded by heterosexual relationships: Cinderella and Prince Charming to Zack Morris and Kelly Kapowski. And often the socially explicit forms of lesbianism we see are those that are oriented with the satisfaction of men.

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Photo courtesy of arteunporro

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Photo courtesy of Foxtongue

This lifestyle, the heterosexual lifestyle, is normative and any lifestyle that exists outside of this must, therefore, be explained and justified. But does a society that is rooted in compulsory heterosexuality give leeway to acts of patriarchal terrorism and general acts of violence against women?

In her work The Sexual Politics of Murder author Jane Caputi suggests that acts of violence against women are, in fact, “sexually political murders, a form of murder rooted in a system of male supremacy in the same way that lynching is based in white supremacy. Such murder is, in short, a form of patriarchal terrorism” (Caputi, 438).

A compulsory influence on any sex to perform and embody gender differences and enlist in a form of sexuality, leaves little room for one to reflect on choice. Individuals who exist within these confines are limited and, therefore, exposed to the re-enforcement of heterosexuality.

But what about choice? If we lived in a world where individuals took a political stance with their sexuality and stated that whichever sexual orientation they chose to choose was a choice, then what would that mean for our society? We would have to be a society grounded in choice as opposed to a society grounded in providence, “natural” order and procreation, and religious conflicts. Furthermore, what would that mean for the individuals who took a political stance with their sexuality? These individuals would assume an extreme risk owning their “difference” as a choice. Whenever something is perceived to be “normal” we must investigate. For what lies behind a given might not always be natural.