Liberia’s President George Manneh Weah has described crimes of Sexual and Gender-Based Violence against women and girls especially rape as unacceptable cancer.
Pres. Weah made the assertion during the start of a three day 2018 Sheroes Forum in Monrovia. The International Sheroes Forum held under the theme “Advancing women participation in leadership” focuses on accessing gains made over the period fostering new ways to tackle women issues around the continent.
Several international guests from Nigeria, Malawi, Zimbabwe, and Liberia among others were in attendance for the event.
According to Pres. Weah though women face challenges ranging from social equality, status, traditional and culture, there is a need to protect the rights of women and girls from abuses which he stated would undermine development in countries.
“I must tell you that women still face a range of issues in Liberia, which hold them back in society and make social equality a significant challenge, in general, the reality is that women in Liberia have less access to education, healthcare, property, and justice when compared to men”.
The President recounted the country’s years of Liberian civil conflict where women were victims of crimes adding that such marginalization continued to persist in the corridors of the country which needs urgent attention.
According to a 2017 SGBV report of the Ministry of Gender, a total of almost 900 Sexual and Gender-Based Violence cases were reported, of which more than 500 were rape cases, and 475 involved children, to this, Pres. Weah stated that there needs to be a change in the handling of cases to enable justice for survivors through proper court proceedings.
“These statistics provide alarming evidence that we are still not yet dealing with this problem in an effective manner”.
Pres. Weah noted that his government will ensure that fast-track rape court Criminal Court run yearly to ensure a reduction in the number of pre-trial detainees on rape charges and the focus on strengthening women’s rights against crimes,
“There is an urgent need to fast-track these cases and increase the rate of conviction, I will seek an increase in budgetary support to provide for the Special Criminal Court to operate on a year-round basis, and also increase the number of judges assigned”.
Pres. Weah, however, frowned on the implementation of the rape law and other laws on SGBV and women rights which he noted are encouraging the culture of impunity,
“A Special Criminal Court was established a few years ago to try sexual offense cases on an exclusive basis yet there are very few convictions, as the legal processes are slow, the docket is crowded, and the prisons are filled with accused offenders waiting for trial”, Pres. Weah averred.
He referenced the latest case involving an international educational partner called “More than Me” in Rape and Abuse scandal of young girls which was previously organized provide educational services to help vulnerable girls and ensuring a safe space for them to achieve their goals.
Though Pres. Weah cautioned Liberians from making conclusion over the matter until the final report into the investigation is released, he added that those stories of sexual exploitation of young Liberian girls are evidence of increasing cases of SGBV in Liberia,
“We must await the findings before drawing any conclusions. Nevertheless, we are deeply concerned, for stories like this one are indicative of an undeniable increase in the incidence of sexual violence in Liberia”.
The Liberian Leader further assured the protection of women from violence through the ensuring effective prosecution and punishment of offenders; implementing training for all law enforcement personnel, and establishing more shelters for women victims of violence among others.
“I have zero tolerance for sexual and gender-based violence, and I intend to personally champion my Administration’s renewed efforts to eradicate this unacceptable cancer from our society”.
In furtherance, Pres. Weah declared himself as a chief feminist who will continuously champion women’s rights to ensure a violence-free society, on the basis of that definition,
“Ladies and Gentlemen, I wish to declare myself as “Liberia’s Feminist-in-Chief”, and hereby pledge to the women of Liberia that I will do all that I can, during my tenure as President of this country, to fight for gender equality and empowerment”, he ended.
The year’s 2018 International Sheroes Forum Keynote Speaker, Former Malawian President Joyce Banda urged for the promotion of women and girls rights in Africa adding that women are the driving force for economic stability and peace.
Madam Banda lauded Pres. Weah and his administration for championing the cause for women rights, change, and empowerment, but she stressed the support of stronger policies gear towards strengthening women’s rights and participation I leadership.
For her Part, Liberia’s Vice President Jewel Howard Taylor craved that the affirmative action will form part of constitutional amendments to go to referendum as a mean for critical decision making by all in the fight of women’s advancement and empowerment.
VP Taylor encouraged women to remove their eyes from the impossibilities by focusing and remaining resolute to push their agenda and 50-50 representation at all levels.
She, however, thanked the women of Liberia, Africa and the world for turning out to advance ways on targeting women issues, stressing boldness and fearless in discussing the way forward.