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Thursday, November 13, 2008

The situation for women in Liberia is dire

The situation for women in Liberia is dire, which is why we are committed to supporting our Liberia Scholarship Program for the long term and expanding it over the next few years. I found this entry on a woman's blog. It is powerful. Among other things that are really sticking in my head are the facts that the rape rate is upwards of 77% and the literacy rate for women is less than 30%. To read more, visit this powerful blog.

SUNDAY, JULY 1, 2007
Personalizing the reality of Liberia's gender statistics
Statistics about the situation of women in Liberia are few. After 14 years of civil conflict, the lack of data is a huge constraint for government and development partners alike. One of the ongoing priorities is to gather data to characterize the population and inform policy, especially as the country moves into the process of drafting its 5-year Poverty Reduction Strategy. Over the past week, I have been working with the Ministry of Gender to review and revise the nation's Gender Profile and Gender Needs Assessment, telling a story with what little information is available. I'm keeping my nerdy fingers crossed that the Demographic and Health Survey data will be out in July, as promised, so that I can do some data crunching to expand upon the data we have now (including violence prevalence rates, perceptions on HIV/AIDs, education attainment and women's health concerns). Below, I have attempted to pass along some of the harsh reality that the current reports contain.

Think of a room of 100 women/girls in your life.

I picture my mom, 2 grandmothers and 7 aunts. 17 girl cousins, my 2 high school best friends (aka sisters), my god-daughter. My 11 college roommates and 15 young women who participated in service trips, retreats and adventures with me at Boston College. My 32 female peers in the 2008 MPA/ID class at the Kennedy School and 4 faculty/staff who have influenced my studies throughout the years. 4 women who were my community in Laredo and 8 mentors from Casa de Misericordia Domestic Violence Shelter.

100 women. Who would be in your room?

Now, imagine that these 100 women live, not in the United States, but in Liberia. What would this mean?*

Women will average six children each and the entire room will mother 620 children. 97 of those babies will die before they reach the age of 5 years old. Pick 61 women who will watch at least one child die before it reached school age. About 25 women will experience this loss more than once. Luckily in my own randomized exercise, my mom was one of the 39 women who never had a child die. 4 of the 97 dead infants belonged to my friend Maggie.

Now select a group of 11 women and a group of 4. 11 women will deliver their children with the assistance of trained medical professionals; 4 women will die giving childbirth. My Granny Stanger, cousin Darci, roommate Regina and classmate Caroline died while giving birth (I’ll ignore the fact that my Granny’s death might have erased the existence of 10% of the room).

Separate nearly two-thirds of the room: 74 women in the room will be illiterate adults – unable to read newspapers, street signs, books or guides to proper health care. As a comparison, if the room were 100 men, half would be illiterate. In my simulation, 7 out of my 32 Kennedy School classmates are able to read and write their names. My Aunt Denise and my Grandma Dauenbaugh no longer share books with each other and my god-daughter will never be able to read her birthday cards.

Now add in a new assumption, the room of women are all from the urban area of Monrovia:
28 work as market vender/petty traders, 5 work in clerical positions, 3 are skilled laborers or work in manufacturing. Overall, 41 women are working and of these 33 are self-employed.

Now assume your network of women comes from rural areas:
65 women have access to land for farming, but only 7 women in the room own land that they farm. In fact, even though the law of inheritance changed in 2003 to grant wives the right to 1/3 of their husbands’ property (previously, they had no rights over his property), 28 women in the room believe that the law does not even allow them to own land. (32 have husbands who believe the same). This is all in spite of the fact that women in Liberia are collectively responsible for 60% of the total agricultural production of the country.

Final scenario, the 100 women in the room were forced to leave their homes or were directly affected by the 14-year civil conflict in Liberia:
Separate just over three-quarters of the room. These 77 women were raped. 13 women became pregnant as a result of rape. In my room it was my Mom, aunt Jodi, cousin Cassie, 4 friends from Boston College, 2 colleagues from Laredo, and 4 of my KSG classmates.
42 women were subjected to internal body cavity searches.
23 women suffer from permanent physical disfigurement
Pick out one woman in the room. My random sampling drew my college roommate Lizzie. She was forced to eat or sell pieces of a loved-one’s body. Imagine her telling you a story similar to one of these:

“The soldiers cut my husband’s head off after he witnessed powerlessly them raping me. After they cut him into pieces, they put the pieces in the pot and asked me to cook it. After cooking, they forced us to eat. I am not the way I was before.”


“My son was killed by a group of rebels and the body was cut into pieces and put into a wheelbarrow. They (rebels) gave it to me for sale. I did it because I was afraid to be cut to death.”

Only six women are free from physical/health consequences from the abuse they were subjected to during the war.*

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