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

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