Empowering adolescent girls with life skills
High levels of violence were a well-known feature during Liberia’s 14 year civil conflict, in which all elements of protection for girls and women disappeared in the maelstrom of violence. This included widespread perpetration of rape, whose legacy both in terms of the damage it has caused to victims, and in terms of societal preoccupations lingers on. Major efforts have been made since the peace to right the wrongs inflicted on women and take action against all forms of domestic violence and coercive sex. These measures include the creation of the Women’s and Children’s Section of the National Police, the 2006 Rape Law imposing harsh judicial punishments, and major campaigns to make known the changes in these justice and rule of law reforms relating to the protection of women.
However, violence against girls and boys, especially adolescent and teen-aged girls remains high in the country.
Several reports and studies, mostly conducted in 2007 or 2008, advise that rape is a crime mainly committed against young women between 10 and 19 years. Of girls under age 15 who had been sexually active, 13.6% reported that their first experience was forced and against their will.
In 2012 and 2013, over 90 percent of rape cases reported to the police and hospitals in Monrovia involved children under the age of 18 (Source: Gender based Violence Unit, Ministry of Gender and Development).
Eleven per cent of girls marry by age 15 and 38 per cent by age 18, according to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in 2008. Twenty per cent of girls experience sex before age 15, one in seven against their will. A third of girls aged 15-19 are mothers or pregnant, and girls in south-eastern Liberia are four times more likely to be married early than girls living in Monrovia. In 2007, HIV prevalence among women aged 15-49 years was 1.8, compared to 1.2 for men. In 2007, 58 per cent of women (ages 15-58 years) were estimated to have undergone genital cutting.
The Programme on Advancing the Rights of Adolescent Girls in Liberia was initiated in May 2011 aimed at reaching and empowering the most vulnerable and disadvantaged girls with a full package of services ranging from life skills training including HIV; literacy and numeracy training; business and leadership skills; rural financing training and adolescent friendly sexual and reproductive health services.
Supported by UNICEF in partnership with UNFPA, UN Women, UNSECO, WHO and civil society partners, the programme is engaging 500 adolescent girls directly in the most disadvantaged urban slums, and indirectly reaching over 7,000 additional girls through mass media and community outreach campaigns.
The girls are selected for the programme based on the following vulnerabilities:
There are already signs of positive change and attitudes among the majority of the girls enrolled in the programme. The have more self-confidence and are openly beginning to share their dreams and hopes, and even talk about their ambition in life.
For example, 15 year old Masa (name changes) says said that the life skills sessions and other important information and lessons that she learnt under the program motivates her to pursue her dream and helps her stay away from “doing bad things.” With her new found confidence and skills, Masa hopes to become a banker. Sara (name changed), a 10 year old girl, is also very pleased to be in the club. She is in the 3rd grade and lives with her grandmother and eight siblings in Monrovia. Her mother died during child birth and her father was killed during the long civil war. She said that the activities have helped her gain a lot of confidence and she now understands the important graduating from school. She dreams of going to medical school one day.
Like Masa and Sara, the project is reaching hundreds of girls, who are now daring to dream, of becoming bankers, doctors, mechanics, farmers, teachers and the list goes on. But there is still a long way to go as thousands of girls in Liberia still remain vulnerable and in need of support and therefore the program needs to continue and reach out to girls all over the country.
UNICEF and partners will continue to work with the government and partners to ensure that every girl in the country can echo Masa’s words, “I have many friends now and I know there is someone who supports me and who cares about me.”
The second phase of the programme, scheduled to begin in 2014, aims at reaching more girls in disadvantaged and vulnerable communities in the country.