Source:| Mafanta Kromah, Liberia

Tenni, Grand Cape Mount – Vice President Jewel Howard Taylor on Tuesday, June 18, 2019, led the Liberian government, the United Nations, the European Union, international partners and civil society in launching the EU/UN Liberia Spotlight Initiative, an effort design to eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls.

The Spotlight Initiative is a 500 million Euro global joint initiative of the European Union and the United Nations. Liberia is one of eight countries in Africa to benefit from the initiative.  The program will run for four years and target for counties in Liberia: Grand Cape Mount, Grand Grdeh, Montserrado, Lofaand Nimba.

A total of US$18.5 million will fund the first phase of the project. Funding for the second phase will be based upon results achieved, as outlined in the program document. The program will focus on reducing the prevalence of sexual and gender-based violence and harmful practices and increasing women’s access to sexual and reproductive health services.

Vice President Taylor thanked the EU and UN for choosing Liberia as one of the beneficiaries of the initiative, noting for Liberia to have been chosen means that Liberia is at a low level and there are much more needed to be done.

Gender equality, Howard Taylor said, is important to Liberia’s development. If women are provided opportunities, they will educate their children and keep them in a safe environment.

 She said there is a need for girls to reach the age of 18 to decide weather or not they want to undergo this social transformation, which is the FGM as apart of their cultural belief. This she said will help to take the culture problem a little step forward and will encourage people to get the point where such practice will be eliminated as it is a violation of the rights of women especially very young girls.

In order to address rape and sexual violence, Liberia needs to have a functional DNA machine with experts who can use it, so police can thoroughly investigate rape cases. The Vice President explained that “I think that DNA machine and its utilization is critical to the fact that you can not pinpoint who the rapist was.”

Addressing the crowd of over 500 people, the Vice President hoped that the President, George Weah will renew the Executive Order banning Female Genital Mutilation and that the Legislature will soon pass the Domestic Violence Law that is already in committee room for discussion.

Also speaking, the Resident Coordinator of the United Nations, Yacoub El Hillo, said Liberia has made some progress in terms of women’s rights, but the country has a long way to go.

“Progress is possible, and the Spotlight initiative creates space for all in society including traditional leaders—who are a powerful segment of the Liberian society—to play an active role in ending violence against women and girls,’’ El Hillo said.

Juan Antonio FrutosGoldaratz, Charge d’affaires of the EU, said the European Union is committed to defending human rights of women and girls and advancing equality between women and men around the world.

“We are fully committed to addressing all forms of violence against women and girls, especially trafficking, Female Genital Mutilation and early marriage,’’ he said.

Sexual and gender-based violence continue to be a major challenge in Liberia, Goldaratz said.

“A significant number of Liberian women and girls continue to be subjected to various forms of violence, including rape, FGM, which is a grave violation of the human rights of women and girls,” he said.

“Political, traditional and community leaders can play a critical role as drivers of change. We all have the responsibility to say no, openly reject acts of violence and stand by the women and girls who are subjected to it.’’

Williametta Saydee Tarr, Minister for the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection, thanked the EU and UN for considering Liberia as one of the Spotlight countries.

“We cannot lose momentum,’’ she said. “We need to further reinforce our efforts. The Spotlight Initiative will allow us to build on the current sexual and gender-based violence framework that we have developed under the UN/Swedish and government joint SGBV program.

The Spotlight Initiative comes at a critical time when Liberia is struggling with the high rate of rape, sexual-based violence, FGM and other harmful practices against women.

For example, the number of rape cases reported in the first quarter of this year totaled 803, compared to 2,105 in 2018. Forty-seven percent of the rapes reported this year involved children ages 13 to 17

Speaking on behalf of the National Traditional Council of Liberia, Secretary Isaac Gbarpue, said the council has come a long way in understanding gender equality. Many of the traditional leaders now understand that suppressing women and violating their rights was detrimental to development.

“My fellow Liberians and my traditional men, let me tell that by disregarding women we were the one carrying the heavy burden unknowingly, by suppressing the rights of women we were suppressing ourselves, by holding them down we were refusing to developed our land, by shouting their mouth we were worrying ourselves out by doing all the thinking and talking alone by stopping their ideas from flowing in decision making,”

Meanwhile, residents of the district have expressed their excitement about the program, noting it will help to bring to light to all the gender violence issues the county has been faced with.

Speaking with Musu Fahnbulleh, a resident said it means a lot for the the people of Cape Mount because women suffer a lot in the hands of violators who go unpunished either because they are family members or they have money.

“If they try to let everybody know what it means for us women to be beaten, raped and stopped from doing things  we like and also let’s people nei who can do those bad bad things dem know ley thing ley law say, it will help end violence against women and girls dem,” she said in her Liberian language.

Also speaking was Varney Kamara, another resident of the said this initiative is hardly welcome by the people of Cape Mount and thanked the EU and UN for considering Liberia as one of the selected countries.

According to him, violence against women and girls is not one group of people problem, but a problem for the entire community to work to resolved.

“We are committed for joining this fight, we make sure all cases of SGBV are reported to the appropriated authority and we will support the victims and ensure they received justice,” he said.

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