Women War Survivors of Sexual Violence in Liberia: Inequalities in Health, Resilience and Justice

Citation:

Liebling-Kalifani, Helen and Bruce Baker. 2010. "Women War Survivors of Sexual Violence in Liberia: Inequalities in Health, Resilience and Justice." Journal of International Social Research 3 (13): 188-199.

Authors: Helen Liebling-Kalifani, Bruce Baker

Abstract:

This article argues that the human consequences of conflict sexual violence have often been misunderstood. Typically research has conceptualised these effects in terms of an individual manifestation of psychological trauma and physical injuries. The corresponding post-conflict responses have therefore been confined to a medical one. This paper, based on research with women war survivors in Liberia, argues for an alternative understanding and response. First, it views conflict sexual violence and torture as gendered, that is, although both men and women endure these experiences, their responses are different. Second, it believes that beyond the individual's trauma the impact of conflict sexual violence and torture affects whole communities and identity. Third, it recognises a strong desire for justice among survivors whose fulfillment is vital to their recovery. Fourth, it recognises high levels of resilience among women survivors. In the light of these perspectives, the article argues that for post-conflict responses to be effective they must go beyond a purely individualistic and medical conceptualisation of needs. Rather they have to be gendered, culturally sensitive, address justice as well as health needs and build upon the resilience of women war survivors and their communities.

Keywords: sexual violence, health

Annotation:

Quotes:

"Though Liberia was the first country to launch a plan for the implementation of UN Resolution 1325 (Republic of Liberia, 2008) and though the legal definition of rape was expanded and the age of consent was raised to 18 years, perpetrators are still hardly ever convicted. Part of the problem is the failure to report incidents or to look for medical or professional assistance due to shame, fear of rejection and lack of confidence that the ‘system’ will protect the rights of women (IRIN, 2009; MSF, 2007; UNIFEM 2004; and for northern Uganda see Liebling-Kalifani, in press). Whilst recognizing that both sexes are exposed to violence during armed conflict, women and girls are subjected to sexualized and gender-based violence that targets their sexuality and status." (Liebling-Kalifani et al., 189)

 

"The war also had a serious detrimental effect on the very services that the war survivors needed namely judicial and medical. Although there are a few examples of health initiatives, the capacity of the Liberian government to respond to women survivors of sexual violence is thus extremely limited. There is little to address their physical and psychological health needs; and their need for justice against the perpetrators of the violence." (Liebling-Kalifani et al.,190)

 "This paper, drawing on findings of recent research carried out with women war survivors in Liberia, argues that for post-conflict responses to be effective they must go beyond a purely individualistic and medical conceptualisation of needs. Rather they have to be gendered, culturally sensitive, address justice as well as social and health needs and build upon the resilience of women and their communities." (Liebling-Kalifani et al., 190)

 

"A culture of partial justice and impunity for the powerful had long marked by the pre-war system and in fact had been one of the primary catalysts for the civil war. According to one survey (Liberian CJS Report, 2002) 56% of those who had been arrested and forwarded to court believe that the court had not been fair to them, citing reasons such as partiality of judges (41%), interference by government officials (24%), no opportunity for legal representation (18%) and jury manipulation (6%). Thus 59% of these respondents were not satisfied with the outcome of the cases. Overall, 61% of respondents said they had little or no confidence in the courts to render justice." (Liebling-Kalifani et al., 192)

 "Significant changes were made to legislation, which expanded the definition of rape so that now any form of sexual penetration is considered rape under Liberian law. The age of consent has also been raised to 18 years. The new laws have also established harsher punishment for perpetrators and abolished bail for rape cases. Despite these steps, the judicial system has yet to adapt these changes so the new laws have made little difference. Perpetrators are still hardly ever convicted. Rape still tends to be dealt with privately. Most victims never press charges. According to the Association of Female Lawyers of Liberia, there is a conspiracy of silence and denial within the community and within the families involved. The judicial system is an ongoing source of frustration." (Liebling-Kalifani et al., 192)

 

"Analysis of the research data from Liberia suggests that the effects of conflict sexual violence and torture should be regarded as gendered, that is, although both men and women endure these experiences, their responses are different. Women war survivors reconstruct their identities by taking on male roles, becoming heads of households, peace building as well as engaging in collective and political activities. Women’s ability to voice their experiences, form groups as a political act of resistance, results in a shared identity and a decrease in trauma experienced. In contrast, men largely turn their trauma inwards, using strategies such as alcohol and drug use in an attempt to ‘manage’ their distress (Isis-WICCE, 2008). Further, it is suggested that women’s war trauma is differently constituted than men’s due to the effects of sexual violence and torture being understood as a ‘destruction of cultural identity’ and of the ethnic group. Hence, the effects of these experiences on women are equally valid, and therefore deserving of compensation and facilities for recovery, as has been awarded to male soldiers (Liebling-Kalifani, in press)." (Liebling-Kalifani et al., 194)

 

"It is emphasised however, that although destruction of cultural identity and entitlement to power was in many ways ‘successful’ from the point of view of the military groups, in the sense that it did erode Liberian women and girl’s sense of self, cultural identity and entitlement to power, this was never an uncontested process. Liberian women and girls, who were the objects of attack, also resisted the breakdown of their cultural identity, not only physically and militarily, for example as combatants, but also socially, psychologically and culturally. As Andermahr et al. (1997: 287) suggest, ‘theoretically informed accounts by women who have experienced rape and struggled to retain their sense of autonomy are needed.'" (Liebling-Kalifani et al., 195)

Topics: Gender, Women, Health, Mental Health, Trauma, Sexual Violence, SV against men, Torture Regions: Africa, West Africa Countries: Liberia

Year: 2010

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