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Gender Mainstreaming Unraveled: The Case of DDRR in Liberia


Basini, Helen S.A. 2013. “Gender Mainstreaming Unraveled: The Case of DDRR in Liberia.” International Interactions 39 (4): 535–57.

Author: Helen S.A. Basini


In the past women have been excluded from peace initiatives. However, with the advent of UNSCR 1325 (2000) women's agency in the process has been heightened through a new framework for involvement. UNSCR 1325 is a policy document that acknowledges the link between women, peace, and security and uses gender mainstreaming as a mechanism to implement its objectives. Yet in spite of its policy advancements, over a decade later women still do not participate equally in peace and security initiatives that impact on the sustainability of peace. This article aims to explore the context of this framework through considerations of the gender mainstreaming provision in the disarmament, demobilization, rehabilitation, and reintegration (DDRR) process in Liberia. Using interviews with women associated with fighting forces (WAFFs)/ex-combatants the article argues that although there was a specific targeted focus showing some gender responsive design and coordination, WAFFs’/ex-combatants’ unique needs, especially those of a social and psychological nature, were poorly addressed. In addition, the commentary shows that the focus did not attend to structural inequality issues such as sexual and gender based violence (SGBV).

Keywords: DDR, ex-combatant, gender mainstreaming, Liberia, UNSCR 1325, women associated with fighting forces

Topics: Combatants, Female Combatants, DDR, Gender, Women, Gender-Based Violence, Gender Mainstreaming, Peace and Security, Peacebuilding, Peace Processes, UN Security Council Resolutions on WPS, UNSCR 1325, Sexual Violence Regions: Africa, West Africa Countries: Liberia

Year: 2013

Sexual Assault Recovery in the Aftermath of the Liberian Civil War: Forging a Sisterhood between Feminist Psychology and Feminist Theology


Bryant-Davis, Thelma, Katurah Cooper, Alison Marks, Kimberly Smith, and Shaquita Tillman. 2011. “Sexual Assault Recovery in the Aftermath of the Liberian Civil War: Forging a Sisterhood between Feminist Psychology and Feminist Theology.” Women & Therapy 34 (3): 314-30.

Authors: Thelma Bryant-Davis, Katurah Cooper, Alison Marks, Kimberly Smith, Shaquita Tillman


Cross-border feminist collaborations enhance efforts to combat violence against women, including sexual violence. Sexual assault was a pervasive human rights violation perpetrated against many Liberian women during the over decade long Civil War. Based on a review of the mental health literature focusing on the realities of this crime against humanity in the lives of Liberian women, thirteen interviews were conducted with Liberian Church leaders. The participants and the first and second authors are collaborators on faith-based initiatives aimed at serving and empowering Liberian women and girls through the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Interviewees highlight the effects, dynamics, needs, and solutions for Liberian women attempting to recover from these atrocities. This article utilizes feminist theology and feminist psychology as a frame for understanding the experiences of Liberian sexual assault survivors and feminist cross-border collaborations in West Africa.

Keywords: sexual violence, trauma, recovery



"Often, female combatants were required to perpetrate the very crimes they were subjected to: rape, torture, and murder (Johnson et al., 2008). Female combatants were at an increased risk for sexual violence (42.3%) as compared with their noncombatant counterparts (9.2%) (Johnson et al., 2008). Interestingly, Swiss et al. (2008) report that being required to cook for a soldier, a form of wartime servitude, placed Liberian women at greater risk for sexual violence, 55% versus 10% for those who were not made to prepare meals." (317)

"Research on sexual violence during the Liberian civil war faces linguistic complications, stemming from the lack of terminology for describing rape in Liberian English (Swiss, et al., 1998). However, research in this area has relied on concepts of ‘‘forced sex’’ and visual depictions of sexual coercion to examine the topic." (317)

"In 2005 Liberia passed one of the strictest anti-rape legislation in its region, making statutory and gang rape an 'unbailable' offense; an offense previously holding a $25 bail fee (Callimachi, 2007)." (318)

"With an awareness of the dearth of mental health professionals working in Liberia in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War as well as the central role of religion and spirituality in many Liberian women’s lives, the authors primarily sought out female Liberian Church leaders to shed light on one of the focus areas of their faith-based collaborative projects, the issue of sexual violence during the Liberian Civil War." (321)

 "On the other hand, there are safe places where some women are able to find relief and a safe forum to express their feelings and receive support. The outlets described are Christian Church gatherings, family=informal gatherings, and gender-specific, trauma focused Sexual Assault in the Liberian Civil War workshops hosted in a range of settings; these are reflections of feminist theological and feminist psychological interventions. These distinct outlets have the common ground of community support or social support. The approach they take however is different in that one is based on spiritual knowledge and emotional release while the other is focused on psycho-education or victim-centered information provision. When considering the intersection of feminist theology and psychology, one is required to attend to the holistic needs of rape victims—their minds, bodies, hearts, and spirits." (323-324)

"Interventions based on feminist psychology principles require acknowledging and addressing sexism in all of its manifestations in society, including in religious settings. There is also a need to address women’s sexuality, including their health, empowerment, and self-awareness. Additionally feminist interventions require challenging hierarchies of power and privilege, including the privilege of resource access of women in urban areas as compared to the pervasive neglect of women in rural areas or women marginalized for other aspects of their identity." (326)

Topics: Armed Conflict, Civil Wars, Feminisms, Gender, Women, Girls, Gender-Based Violence, Justice, Crimes against Humanity, Religion, Rights, Human Rights, Women's Rights, Sexual Violence, Rape, SV against women Regions: Africa, West Africa Countries: Liberia

Year: 2011

Investigating the Role of Government Legislation and its Implementation in Addressing Gender-Based Violence Among Returnee Refugee Women in Liberia


Yacob-Haliso, Olajumoke. 2012. "Investigating the Role of Government Legislation and its Implementation in Addressing Gender-Based Violence Among Returnee Refugee Women in Liberia.” Wagadu: A Journal of Transnational Women's and Gender Studies 10 (Spring): 132-49.

Author: Olajumoke Yacob-Haliso


Empirical evidence has demonstrated that in contemporary wars, women and children bear the brunt of the violence unleashed in the form of killings, abductions, and various forms of gendered violence. This research investigates the ways in which returnee refugee women in post war Liberia experience gender-based violence in their everyday lives. It also investigates the role of governmental agencies in addressing this violence and the implications of all these for the reintegration of returnee women and peace in the country generally. To this end, fieldwork was carried out in Liberia employing in-depth and semi-structured interviews, focus group discussions, document review, and observation. One hundred persons participated in the study including returnee women across the country, community leaders, and NGO and government staff. The research was framed within human rights theory, which locates women's rights within human rights and provides practitioners and disadvantaged women alike a vocabulary to frame political and social wrongs. The responses indicate that returnee refugee women in Liberia continue to confront generalized and gender-specific violence. The implementation of government legislation such as the new rape law continue to encumber the drive to tackle gender-based violence (GBV) while other initiatives such as a national GBV taskforce move the country in the right direction. The implications are that reintegration of returnee refugee women remains slow and, although women constitute a remarkable proportion of government, most returnee women have yet to find meaningful ways of contributing to the success of the nascent political order.

Keywords: female refugees, sexual violence, human rights, gender-based violence, legislation, women's rights


"In the current early 'post conflict' period in Liberia, returnee refugee women experience both generalized violence and certain gender-specific forms of aggression. The general forms of violence which affect returnee refugee women, too, include armed robbery, fear of attack by armed robbers (referred to as Isakabba), physical assault such as battery, intimidation, murder of family members, child abuse, and ritual killings. Sometimes, the experience is of tribal attacks, especially in those areas of the country where the war was fought on tribal terms." (138)
"It must be noted that even with violence that seems general and gender-neutral, such as armed robbery, an underlying gender vulnerability can be detected because more often than not, single women or female-headed households tend to be targeted and more frequently, too, than male-headed households." (139)
"In terms of gender-based or gender-specific forms of violence, returnee women interviewed in different parts of Liberia report the prevalence of rape, sexual exploitation, incest, sexual harassment, domestic abuse, ritualistic killings, teenage pregnancy, and female-genital mutilation." (139)
“Especially remarkable is the “new” rape law (Government of Liberia, 2005) that was enacted by the National Transitional Legislature on December 29, 2005, on the eve of handing over to the newly elected democratic government….The law specifies that rape, under certain conditions, is a felony of the first degree and when so determined can carry a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. For the first time, 'rape' is legally defined and penalty attached to the commission of the offence. Furthermore, the law recognizes and penalizes gang rape and includes also acts of sexual abuse of girls under the legal age of consent – 18 years of age." (141)
"Field work for this research further discovered that, as at the time of data collection, modality for the implementation of the rape law was still hazy and largely disputable." (142)
"An additional revelation was the interpretation given by the Ministry of Justice to the stipulation of the law that “the trial of all cases under section 14.70 shall be heard in camera.” It was learnt that 'in camera' does not mean that nobody but the judge will be in the court room. On the contrary, in addition to the judge, the jury, the defendant/s and his/their lawyer/s, the victim, the witnesses, and other court officials will also be present. In fact, the rape case will be held in open court, a situation that denies and definitely adds to the victim’s suffering." (143)
"In addition to the above shortcomings, various NGO, UN, and government staff interviewed cited the absence of the government in certain areas as contributory factors in the prevalence of gender-based violence in the post-war country. This implies that the government is absent to provide security as well as absent to monitor abuses. Also frustrating for victims, their families, and human rights workers is the crippled justice system." (143)
"Because returnee women are preoccupied with maintaining physical survival and security, they report that they are unable to follow and/or participate in political processes that would have increased their identification with the political system." (144)
"The impact of violence is such that it also bequeaths psychological instabilities that detract from returnee women’s social reintegration. Generalized and gender-specific forms of violence deny women access to social services and other productive resources that would otherwise benefit them and contribute to their reintegration." (145)
“Unfortunately, too many of the returnees interviewed in Liberia indicated their regret at return and their willingness to go back to the country of exile if given the means." (145)

Topics: Displacement & Migration, Refugees, Gender, Women, Gender-Based Violence, NGOs, Rights, Human Rights, Women's Rights, Sexual Violence, Rape, SV against women Regions: Africa, West Africa Countries: Liberia

Year: 2012

Women War Survivors of the 1989-2003 Conflict in Liberia: The Impact of Sexual and Gender-Based Violence


Liebling-Kalifani, Helen, Victoria Mwaka, Ruth Ojiambo-Ochieng, Juliet Were-Oguttu, Eugene Kinyanda, Deddeh Kwekwe, Lindora Howard, and Cecilia Danuweli. 2011. "Women War Survivors of the 1989-2003 Conflict in Liberia: The Impact of Sexual and Gender-Based Violence." Journal of International Women's Studies 12 (1): 1-21.

Authors: Helen Liebling-Kalifani, Victoria Mwaka, Ruth Ojiambo-Ochieng, Juliet Were-Oguttu, Eugene Kinyanda, Deddeh Kwekwe, Lindora Howard, Cecilia Danuweli


This article presents a summary of the qualitative data from research carried out in post-conflict Liberia by Isis-WICCE, a women's international non-government organisation, in conjunction with the Ministry of Gender and Development of Liberia and Women in Peace-building Network, WIPNET. Analysis of research findings detail women's experiences of conflict and the serious effects of sexual violence and torture on their physical and psychological health. The paper also describes the omission of women from justice and rehabilitation processes. In support of women participants' views, the author's recommend that funding is urgently required for the provision of holistic and sustainable, gender- sensitive services. Additional recommendations are made with respect to health, justice and policy changes in line with enhancing women survivor's roles and utilising their skills and resilience.



"The rates of sexual violence were higher amongst former combatants; 42.3%, amongst women combatants and 32.6% amongst male combatants." (9)

"The most visited health facility for psychological problems and surgical problems related to war were the private run clinics. However, significant numbers utilised self medication, traditional healers, local health centres and district hospitals. A tenth of the participants had not sought any treatment at all for their psychological problems. Participants described government health facilities as not having the necessary professional expertise to handle the psychosocial consequences of war as well as the emerging epidemic of domestic violence." (11-12)

"It was also observed that the DDRR largely failed to meet a large number of women's and girls' needs compared to men's and boys'. Thousands of women and girls formally associated with the fighting forces did not participate in the DDRR for reasons such as misinformation, lack of knowledge and understanding about the process, manipulation by commanders, lack of funding, lack of political will to ensure a gender-based approach, shame and fear. Some of the women that did participate were said to have been harassed by UN designated officials during the disarmament phase, including being ridiculed or hit whilst trying to disarm. Amnesty International (2008a) reported that some women did not benefit unless they were prepared to have sex with their commander. The programme failed to meet the needs of many women and girl combatants and did not ensure that their participation was proportional to their actual level of involvement. Many women were said to have failed to fully benefit from the rehabilitation and reintegration phase because the programme largely failed to acknowledge and address stigma and shame as a barrier to their participation, as well as taking into account adequate understandings of women's and girl's war experiences (Amnesty International, 2008a)." (14)

Topics: Armed Conflict, Gender, Women, Gender-Based Violence, Governance, Post-conflict Governance, Health, Mental Health, Reproductive Health, International Organizations, Post-Conflict Reconstruction, Rights, Women's Rights, Sexual Violence, Rape, SV against women, Torture, Sexual Torture Regions: Africa, West Africa Countries: Liberia

Year: 2011

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


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


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



"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

‘This is the Time to Get in Front’: Changing Roles and Opportunities for Women in Liberia


Fuest, Veronika. 2008. "‘This is the Time to Get in Front’: Changing Roles and Opportunities for Women in Liberia." African Affairs 107 (427): 201-24. doi: 10.1093/afraf/adn003.

Author: Veronika Fuest


Most research on women in war focuses on female losses. This article demonstrates that wars may also bring gains. The scope of political and economic roles that Liberian women perform today appears to be larger than before the war. Both individually and collectively, certain women have gainfully used openings the war provided them. The article discusses the historicity of Liberian gender roles, examining the social subgroups of politicians, businesswomen, women's organizations, employees, and school girls. Changes have also been fostered by the international peace-building and development business. Although the realization of female ambitions seems to be constrained by various institutional and economic factors, Liberia may harbour a unique potential for sustainable shifts in gender roles.

Topics: Gender, Women, Gender Roles, Political Economies, Post-Conflict Regions: Africa, West Africa Countries: Liberia

Year: 2008

Our Bodies…Their Battleground

"'Our Bodies...Their Battlegrounds' highlights the crisis facing women, girls and infants throughout the world, both during conflict and in its wake. This film gives a voice to victims of rape in The Democratic Republic of the Congo and Liberia, and seeks to challenge the culture of impunity that allows this violence to continue unchecked."


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