Breaking taboos in liberia

When she took office in January 2006, Liberia's president Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf broke a taboo. She confessed to being raped. In a country like Liberia this was particularly significant. During 14 years of civil war (1989-2003), rebels and government troops systematically used sexual violence as a weapon. And to this day, women and girls are brutally abused in the West African country.

United Nations estimates that up to three-quarters of Liberian women have been victims of sexual violence. For a long time it was not talked about. But since the now 69-year-old "Ma Ellen" became president, abuse has been an ie in Liberia. On streets and house walls, the government put up posters with painted scenes of violence: "Good men don't rape," or "Rape is a crime!".One of the strictest abuse laws in the world is intended to deter potential perpetrators and ensure fairer punishments – up to life imprisonment. Radio information campaigns are used to try to encourage women to report their rapists.Liberia's women have become much more self-confident, says Karin Griese, trauma specialist for the German aid organization medica mondiale. But: "It sometimes takes years for the women to talk about their suffering." Most withdrew. And when they talked about it, it was often because they did not perceive the abuse as their own experience.So was Meima Ballah. The young woman, whose age can range from 15 to 25, hardly stands out in the hustle and bustle of the camp for returnees from Sierra Leone. Her dull, quickly digressing gaze, monotone voice and stooped posture hint at her history. She has her younger brother with her. "Where the rest of my family is, I don't know," she says unemotionally. "I was raped during the war. After that I fled." And digs out of her back pocket a medical certificate strained almost to illegibility as she begins to enumerate medical details.Annie Jones-Demen, Liberia's deputy minister for gender equality, explains that her country's society stigmatizes women who have been raped. That is why many victims remained silent. "Often women destroy the evidence of rape because they fear being excluded." The government wants to counteract this. "But change takes time." This confirms Sybille Fezer of medica mondiale. "Awareness of the ie is growing, but it is a very long process."The many years of war destroyed social norms. There is little understanding of right and wrong, he said. Fezer: "Victims aged 4 to 70 came to us." Although the general conditions in Liberia are better than elsewhere thanks to the government, there is a lack of money, policemen, judges and care. The Concerned Christian Community (CCC), a Christian organization that cared for hundreds of women after the war, can tell you a thing or two about it. In the region around Arthington, the birthplace of ex-warlord and former Liberian President Charles Taylor, CCC organized women's meetings. "At the moment we don't have any more money for this," social worker Jartu Freeman laments.A church built by Baptist Taylor, of all people, served as the women's meeting place. The former dictator and rebel leader now faces a war crimes tribunal in The Hague for atrocities in neighboring Sierra Leone.

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