According to figures from 2011, close to half of Liberia’s population lives in extreme poverty. In the aftermath of the brutal civil wars (1989-1996 and 1999-2003), in which 250 000 people were killed and a third of the population was displaced, poverty is one of the biggest threats to stability in the country.
Peace is fragile in Liberia and the development of a stable, sustainable society is hampered by the large inequalities that exist in the country and the continuous discrimination against women.
Gender-based violence is one of the biggest problems facing Liberian women. Although exact figures are difficult to obtain, it is indisputable that rape, domestic violence and female genital mutilation (FGM) are prevalent. The prolonged period of war contributed to a general increase in violence in society, but violence against women also stems from deep-rooted traditions and beliefs about women. The violence hinders women from strengthening their position in society and hampers efforts to achieve gender equality.
Women and peace
Liberia is well-known for women’s active involvement in ending the war. In 2011, this was recognised on an international level, when the Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and peace activist Leymah Gbowee were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. A number of Kvinna till Kvinna’s current partners, especially WANEP, were at the forefront of this work and also in the disarmament of the rebels.
However, Liberia has also been criticized for allowing war criminals to go unpunished. In 2012, the country’s former president, Charles Taylor, was sentenced to 50 years in prison for war crimes committed in neighbouring Sierra Leone. However, Taylor has not been held accountable for the atrocities he was responsible for in his home country during the civil wars, in which 250 000 people were killed and a large number of women were raped.
Laws without implementation
In theory, women’s rights are largely recognised in Liberia. The country has ratified the UN’s CEDAW (Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women) and adopted both a Gender-Based Violence National Action Plan and a National Action Plan on United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325, However the plan has expired and no new one has yet been put in in place. Furthermore, these documents have not yet been implemented in a way that has had any significant impact on women’s lives.
The Liberian legal system is based on two parallel systems – one formal system and one informal (traditional) system. Discriminatory attitudes towards women are especially prevalent in the informal system and it is a powerful obstacle to women’s rights. The informal system does not recognise domestic violence as a problem in Liberian society and within this system women do not have the same rights to property or inheritance as men. It also permits forced marriage and female genital mutilation (FGM).
Lack of access to education
Women play a crucial role for the Liberian economy, but they earn significantly less than men. Women also have less access to education, which is reflected in the literacy rate – 54.5 percent for women and 63.7 percent for men (2009). This lack of access to education and financial resources makes it difficult for women to gain influence in society and politics.
Women’s participation in political decision-making is low. In the 2011 elections, 10 percent of the seats in the House of Representatives, and 6.7 percent of those in the Senate, were won by women. This represented a decrease in comparison to the 2005 elections, after which the figures were 12.5 percent and 16.7 percent respectively. One obstacle to women’s participation in politics is Liberia’s centralised political structure, which means that there are fewer ways to get into politics and fewer opportunities for women to gain political experience.
Lesbians, bisexual women and transgender persons in Liberia live under difficult circumstances. Homosexuality is criminalised and religious communities, the media and politicians use their influence to marginalise the LGBTQ movement. Women who have been infected with HIV and AIDS are another vulnerable group.
Liberia has the highest maternal mortality rate in the world. According to Amnesty International’s 2010 Report, this is due to deficiencies in emergency obstetric care, lack of trained staff and an extremely high number of teenage abortions.
Senast uppdaterad: 2016-12-06