Saturday, March 29, 2008

Liberation for Liberian Women

In January of 2007 the United Nation Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) deployed the first all female Para-military force from India and this past January a second unit of women came to replace the first unit as they ended their tour of duty. Over one hundred Indian women served in an effort to help maintain the fragile cease fire and be peacekeepers in Liberia as well as influence Liberian women to join the Liberian National Police (LNP). In the wake of the country’s two civil wars that have spanned fourteen years, at least 450,000 Liberians have been killed, 2 million displaced and 40% of the women have been raped.

So in a way women are doing the work that men could not or would not do. What was it that Margaret Thatcher said, “If you want something done, ask a woman.” It seems that male U.N. peacekeeping troops have been abusing their authority in the country and in 2006 male troops were found guilty in thirty cases related to sex for food. And although the country got tougher on rape and made an amendment to its rape law in 2005 it doesn’t seem to be enough. Me`decins Sans Frontie`res reported 513 rapes in just the first six months of 2007 from a single hospital in Monrovia; 174 of those cases were girls under twelve years of age.

But will all female units and educational incentives to join Liberia’s police force be enough to end violence against its women? There are thousands of stories right here in the United States of women who served in the armed forces, were raped by their fellow officers, reported it and their was no punishment. In fact many were harassed until they left the service or were discharged against their wishes. The world is not one gender and all female units may be empowering but it will be short lived unless you change the mind set of the people, the corrupt system and enforce consequences. For example, in Peru’s capital city of Lima the majority of traffic officers are female (73%) since a study done in the late nineties showed that women would be less corrupt in that role than men. However by 2002 female traffic officers were the victims of violence in 90% of reported cases. In fact Peru had to reconsider its laws regarding violence towards women after a female traffic officer was dragged twenty yards by one vehicle and then subsequently hit by another.

It is unfair, almost absurd but more likely unconscionable to ask women in India, Liberia, Peru or any place in the world to engender peace and restore balance with our presence alone. If and when more Liberian women join the police force they will have to work with other women and men too. What will be put in place to support these women in an environment that is dominated by men and the country’s police force has a 5% female population? They will not live and work in single sex barracks as their Indian female counterparts do. President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf is the first woman president in any African country and in her inauguration speech she stated, “My administration shall empower Liberian women in all areas of our national life” and she gave the country its first woman chief of police and six of her cabinet members are female but a presence is not enough. It will take work, systemic changes and time to bring about any true equity and hopefully Liberia’s “Iron Lady” aka President Johnson-Sirleaf can do it.

-Adisa Vera-Beatty

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