An all-black Thursday march was staged in Liberia’s capital today to reawaken calls for the protection of women and girls rights against Sexual and Gender-Based Violence, mainly rape.
The Conglomeration of Women Rights groups protest march come in the wake of news reports of alleged sexual exploitation of underage girls at an internationally run school called “More Than Me Academy.”
“More Than Me” is run by a US educator Katie Meyler and reports from the ProPublica indicated that underprivileged girls attending the school mainly from Westpoint were raped, sexually abused by a senior staffer of the institution Mcintosh Johnson in 2014.
Recently, the government of Liberia announced an investigation into the matter while the “More Than Me” board has asked Katie Meyler to step aside while the institution digs out the information.
President George Weah recently at the International Sheroes Forum called on citizens to avoid drawing conclusion into the saga which is currently under investigation until final reports can be made public for action.
Barely few hours of the president’s speech at the international forum held in Monrovia, campaigners under the banner “Unprotected” took to the streets of Monrovia in demand for justice for the girls and other survivals of SGBV crimes across the country.
The Group presented petition statements to several institutions of concern including the Ministry of Justice, Education, Gender, Vice President Jewel Howard Taylor and the United Nations.
The protesters carried placards in the streets with writings gear towards ending rape in the country and creating a safe space for women and girls.
Few wordings include, ‘No excuse for Rape’, ‘Take Action Now to end Rape’, Justice for the Girls at More Than Me, among others.
The group in their petition indicated that the prevalence of violence against women and girls in the Liberian society is enabling the culture of impunity which continues to prevent them from accessing justice.
However, the group expressed solidary with the survivors involved in the “More Than Me” sage and asked government’s intervention in restoring the girl’s hopes,
“we express our solidarity with the survivors and are concerned about their well-being given the public attention of these allegations, we appreciate that appropriate measures are taken by the government of Liberia to promote and ensure the safety and well-being of these girls”.
Reading the Petition statement at the United Nations One House in the presence of Heads of UN agencies, lead campaigner Facia Harris with tears rolling down her eyes call for the release of the 2014 More Than Me investigation report in order to ascertain parties involved including recommendations taken in the matter.
Additionally, Ms. Harris said there is a need to institute an oversight committee to ensure the roll-out and the implementation of the Sexual Exploitation and Abuse policy for NGO’s, INGO’s and all public and private education institutions as a means to keep them accountable of actions which undermine the policy.
She then called for the “resignation of the Director of the SGBV Crimes Unit of the Ministry of Justice, Cllr. John A.A. Gabriel and Tenneh Johnson both staff of said unit,
“we no longer have confidence and trust that they will and can continue to enact their duties in a fair, objective and committed manner”.
The group called on the government of Liberia to strengthen the legal framework that will advance commitment for the protection of women and girls from horrifying experiences in the country.
“We remain prepare to hold our government accountable in the event that no action is taken to protect these girls and ensure access to justice and adequate care and support”.
The petitioners, however, called on the National Legislature to ensure the passage of the domestic violence bill to alleviate the menace of SGBV in the Liberia society and enable free environment while the group reaffirmed its commitment to work with the government in the implementation of their demands.
Black Thursday, as it was being referred to, drew out several young people many of whom are students, youth and single mothers.
Speaking in an interview with The Monrovia Times, Cecelia Drone, an elderly woman who formed part of the march expressed dissatisfaction over the manner and form women and girls are abused daily in the country.
She referenced the signing of international human rights instruments which guide against the abuse women and girls rights.
“I am feeling hurt that those little girls were abused in such manner and form and yet they are still operational and nothing is being done to firstly calm us down as mothers and even women in this country, I feel sorrier for our grand and great-grandchildren who might not be safe”, she stated.
Madam Drone, age 48, walked with other women during the march with the hope to end impunity against women and girls whom she believes will promote peace and justice throughout Liberia.
Recipients of the petition today pledged their unwavering support to ensure that justice is served in the “More Than Me” case pending investigation noting that the need to protect the rights of women and girls is important for the growth of a nation.
In 2017, the Ministry of Gender Children and Social Protection reported 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.
President Weah’s at the Sheroes forum reaffirmed his government’s unwavering support to fast-track cases of rape and increase the rate of conviction, seeking an increased budgetary support to provide for the Special Criminal Court to operate on a year-round basis, and also increase the number of judges assigned.
As it stands, the 2006 Rape Law calls for a 7-year imprisonment sentence for offenders yet Pres. Weah admitted that the implementation of the law is inadequate,
“ However implementation does not seem to serve as a sufficient deterrent, 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, this encourages a culture of impunity”.
Liberia, as a signatory to the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in September 2004 and UN1325 a landmark resolution on Women Peace and Security, has had limited efforts by government to implement these policies as the entrenched human rights violence society continues placed women at a disadvantaged end.
Globally the world is driving to 2030 achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) especially goal 5, Liberia as a country is struggling to meet its international mandate with adequate policies to achieve said goal.
According to the CEDAW, any distinction, exclusion or restriction made on the basis of sex which has the effect or purpose of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by women; irrespective of their marital status, on a basis of equality of men and women, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field are discrimination are women.
Additionally, the UN Women Peace and Security 1325 calls on parties to take action and measures to protect women and girls from Gender-Based Violence, particularly rape and other forms of sexual abuse among others.
By accepting and signing the convention, States commit themselves to undertake a series of measures to end discrimination against women in all forms, including incorporating the principle of equality of men and women in their legal system, abolishing all discriminatory laws and adopting appropriate ones prohibiting discrimination against women.