Liberia has since the end of the civil war in 2003 continued to experience high levels of violence against women and children. There is a lack of reliable numbers yet what is clear is that largest majority of victims of sexual violence are between 5-16 years old. Victims are stigmatized and few cases are reported to the authorities. The impunity perpetrators experience is pervasive yet there are those who tirelessly work for victim’s rights and to end violence against women and girls.
Center for Liberian Assistance (CLA) is one of the few safe-homes for girls in Monrovia. Not only do they provide shelter for girls in need they also provide a safe space where young girls from the Paynesville area receive information about their sexual reproductive health and rights (SRHR). In a society where parents do not speak of sex with their children, few youth friendly spaces were SRHR can be discussed exist, and teen pregnancy stands at 38%, CLA provides an essential service for girls in Paynesville on the outskirts of Monrovia.
This Saturday I had the opportunity to visit our partner organizations CLA during one of their activities. In November CLA began a campaign: 16 Days of Activism to End Violence Against Women and Children. Over 16 days they have had outreach activities in the markets and other open spaces, and used the radio to reach even more people with their message. Activities are carried out by girls that have participated in the activities at CLA and are now peer-educators, girls that actively share what they learn at the center with other girls in their community.
On this occasion they had prepared two skits they performed as street theatre outside of the busy Paynesville Market. Around 15 girls played the part of school girls being lured into a strange man’s apartment where one was singled out and abused. The skit ended with the man being arrested and taken to the police. In a society where few cases of abuse are reported and even fewer make it to court, changing people’s perceptions of what constitutes abuse and the need to report it, is important.
Saturday was another sunny day in Liberia, and despite the skits being played out at the hottest possible moment of the day, the small theatre group was quickly surrounded by a crowd of children, young women, and even some men. The girls played their part, fake beard and oversized trousers and all, and despite it being a sad and horrible topic, they drew laughs at the arrest of the perpetrator and the girls did what they came to do: to educate people to stop sexual abuse and violence against women and children.