Liberia is an African country laying on the west coast of Africa surrounded by three countries: Guinea, Ivory Coast and Sierra Leone. It was founded in 1822 by African American slaves and became a sovereign nation in 1847. Liberia has an estimated population of 3.95 million people as of 2009. Despite an abundance of natural resources, about 83 percent of the population lives on less than 1.25 dollars per day and only 58.9 percent is literate.
It is due to the poverty that women and girls in Liberia are suffering and continue to face so many abuses. This is just one story of so many. An eight year old child, Janet Harris, mysteriously went missing in Bong County on September 21,2012. Janet’s family was poor and her mother had to go to bush to find food. One time while she went, she left Janet and her little sister at home. The girl was lured away by a neighbor who then sold the girl to another resident of the town. The little girl was killed with body parts extracted. One week later her remains were found in a nearby creek.The two residents were arrested. While the neighbor admitted to selling her, the other resident refuted that claim. The case went to court but a verdict wasn’t reached because the jurors couldn’t agree on a verdict. The family of little Janet Harris are still yearning for justice while endlessly waiting for a re-trial. The family is poor and has no means of speeding up the case and calling for a proper investigation.
One out of every three Liberian girls gets pregnant before the age of 18 because they are forced into early sex work due to poverty. Some have to serve as bread winners for their families others try to get money to cover education fees. Too many can’t go to school. Even if they could go back to school later, they don’t have child care. It is up to them to provide for their babies. The fathers escape their responsibilities to care for the children. Some girls decide to have abortions knowing they can’t take care of the children. But abortions are unsafe and illegal and too often lead to death.
Many children end up on the streets rather than in school. I work on the radio telling the stories of street kids selling cold water, biscuits and even plastic bags. For over year, I’ve been trying to amplify their voices and tell of their situation but the problems are too big. These children are between the ages of 7-13. Many have no place to live. They are out of school and don’t have parental care. Those who have homes are afraid to return in the evenings because they fear beatings from their relative for not selling enough or misplacing their money. These kids are at a high risk of being trafficked.
There is only one out of this poverty – education. Liberians need to be able to access quality education. Those who have been educated abroad should return to their homeland and make a difference by educating others.
In the midst of all of these problems, women are organizing themselves at the community level. They provide vocational training. They create spaces to share their stories with one another, to feel relief and to help each other in fighting for the rights of ordinary Liberians. Not only that, but more and more they recognize the importance of education and see the need to go back to school or help sending younger women and girls to school to have better lives in the future. In this light I am asking the international community to please help these women’s groups so that they can provide more support and education for the women, girls and children in Liberia. Liberians need scholarships to study at home and abroad. Women’s groups need more funding that goes to them directly. As we hear over and over again, education is the key to success all over the globe. And since the women groups can’t do it all by themselves, it is good to support local media, like my radio station, that helps to bring their stories to the public.
Josephine was one of the Nobel Women’s Initiative Sister-to-Sister Mentorship Program participants in 2013. She has just returned home after spending six weeks in Ottawa with our team and two other young women’s rights activists from Guatemala and Myanmar.
Read the Sister-to-Sister Mentorship Program blog to find out more about Josephine and her experience in Canada.