Today I went to the official launching ceremony in Lofa County for an IRC report that was done on Domestic Violence in West Africa called “Let Me Not Die Before My Time”. It was held at a Baptist church in town with attendees from IRC, other international NGO’s, religious leaders, women’s and girl’s groups, and government representatives.
The IRC report is worth reading. Even if you don’t read the full text, just skim through and read the quotes of the women that participated. Here is one of the quotes “If I’m doing a business and I have pain, I need to go for treatment so I won’t run my business for a few days. Some of us sell perishable goods, and if he beats me at a time when I have perishable goods, I lose everything. And sometimes that’s just the end; I won’t continue with the business.” Here is a link to the report: http://www.rescue.org/sites/default/files/resource-file/IRC_Report_DomVioWAfrica.pdf
|This is one of the photos included in the report|
Domestic violence is a global problem and occurs in even the most developed countries, but there is something particularly harrowing about domestic violence in societies where women already have little opportunities, undervalued voices in the community and are culturally treated as second class. I have no doubt that women are the most oppressed group of people on this Earth. And Liberia does not have any formal laws against domestic violence. I’m sure there are many countries that don’t.
I heard some really sad stories today. One woman was beaten badly by her husband and then he wrapped her in a sheet and put her under the bed. She managed to get some paper and wrote a note to her daughter that if she died, it was the father who did it. The daughter found her mother dead and had the courage to speak out against her father in court. Then the girl was murdered. I also heard about the wife of an IRC staff member in Monrovia who was attacked by a man on a motorbike on a busy street. The man grabbed at her jewelry and beat her. No one intervened and when one witness was asked why he didn’t do anything he said “I thought it was her boyfriend”…as if that makes it okay. Domestic violence here is generally considered a private matter.
|The men in the audience today stood up and took the IRC pledge for women "I pledge to stand with women and girls, to spread the word about the challenges they face, the potential they hold and the simple solutions that help them survive and thrive."|
During the ceremony there were a number of songs that made me tear up. The Voinjama Girls for Hope group sang a song that essentially when like this “it is not good, it is not correct, to not send the child you have born to school. Support girl’s education o, send your girl child to school.” They also sang about what they wanted to be when they grow up. “Hey all you people, I am a Voinjama Girl of Hope and I want to be a medical doctor.” Or “I want to be a minister”. I was totally trying not to cry because the odds are against these girls and it is very unlikely that they will ever be doctors or ministers or government representatives or any of the other things they sang about. One of the women's group members sang a song too about domestic violence. She sang "wife beating we don't want it o, wife beating we don't it o, Liberian women don't want it o, wife beating women don't want it o. Abandonment we don't want it o, Liberian women don't want it o, abandonment we don't want it o, abandonment women don't want it."
|The Voinjama Girls for Hope group singing about what they want to be when they grow up|
The girls also did a dramatization of domestic violence in the home. One girl acted as the father who yelled at the mother and refused her money to buy food. The mother managed to get some food for the children and when the father saw it, he beat the mother. Then he abandoned her. So she was forced to send her children out to the market to try and sell water and charcoal. Then the mother died of malaria. It was really sad.
The IRC report highlights the type of domestic violence that women experience here…some is direct physical abuse. IRC has dealt with beatings (including beatings of pregnant women), rapes, hacking the women with machetes and even locking them in a house and setting it on fire. Men also create dependence and withhold resources, like not giving the women money to get food or medicine. Then there is psychological and emotional abuse. The below picture is of a slide that was part of a presentation made today about the gender-based violence cases that IRC dealt with from 2008-2010
I feel so lucky to have been born in the USA at the particular moment in history that I was. I had the opportunity to become whatever I wanted to become, there are laws to protect me from domestic violence and there are resources and organizations to help women who need protection from abusers. Too bad all women aren’t so lucky.