A few weeks ago, on this blog, you found out about the depraved and gruesome rapes happening in Liberia. From April (when COVID was declared a National Emergency) to June this year, there were over 600 rapes, with a rate that was still climbing. Those numbers themselves are staggering, but the rape-culture there is so pervasive that most victims are children and very young women. Starting in June, horrific reports were made about men brutally attacking toddlers. It was then that women and men in Liberia empowered themselves to stage a peaceful protest from August 27th to 29th at the seat of the Capitol in Monrovia. There, rape is feared more than the pandemic raging against the world. It is a realistic fear.
Please, educate yourself about rape in Liberia and the leaders that stood against it in my previous posts on rape and the subsequent protest on this blog. The person you should hear the details of what came after is the Stella's Girls journalist Mafanta Kromah. Mafanta (pictured at right) writes for the Liberian paper, The Bush Chicken. She, Mariama Konneh, who is our Executive Director in Liberia and Stella's Girls were on the ground at the protest.
I could never say it better than Mafanta herself, so here are links to her updates on the SGBV crisis in the paper, The Bush Chicken within the last week. Here they are:
Gov’t Opens National Conference on SGBV September 9th, 2020.
Recommendations from National SGBV Conference Finalized September 11th, 2020
President Weah Proclaims Rape a National Emergency September 13th, 2020
Nothing compares when women encourage and pick other women off the ground. There may be a long road ahead, but the solidarity of the women in Liberia leading this change is inspiring. I look forward to seeing the progress of empowered girls and women there.
To help other women to become leaders and, in turn, teach them to lead others is a core value for Stella's Girls. Your generosity could help a girl go to school, have more opportunities, and to become a leader herself. A gift to Stella's Girls could even save a young woman's life from infection. Please donate to better the lives of girls and young women around the world.
Literacy is imperative for everyday life. It is necessary to navigate the world. To make informed decisions, fill out a job application, and decipher the constant and broad range of information you receive each day, you need to read. Endless and clashing stories from the news and through friends are confusing and overwhelming. Doing research on your own and educating yourself on the truth is to become free from other people’s opinions. Your own, educated opinion becomes clear. Your Self is empowered. There is no depth of learning without being able to read.
For a little one to hear Dr. Suess, read to them for the first time, for a child to escape into A Wrinkle in Time, and a parent to drive them to school, reading is essential. Everyone who reads this article takes from what being literate gives. It was what helped me escape when things were dismal at best. To read is the best form of escapism. You learn as you get away from the world around you at the same time as learn about it. Different worlds come to life; you are exposed to various histories and cultures through reading. Even if you’re “not a reader” of books, you read. You can understand what I am writing. And you take it as a given. To you, being literate probably feels more like a right and less like a privilege. It is a right.
Learning is treated as a privilege. Getting an education is treated as a privilege. Having a college education is beginning to be fictional. And it shouldn’t be. I was happy to be able to sit in on UNESCO’s Literacy in Action summit on Tuesday. That’s right; I was celebrating International Literacy Day by attending a webinar at 4:30 am. Groggy though I was, I heard some disturbing news about the state of education and literacy throughout the world. And, yes, happy to be up that early in the morning listening to it. Literacy = Knowledge and Power. This is especially true for the most underrepresented population of the world, young women. For, how can we educate and empower them to influence the world around them, if they can’t read.
UNESCO’s mission and message is that literacy IS a Right and not the privilege it is treated as. Reading SHOULD be a Right. That literacy is a basic human right. Yet, 773 million adults lack the necessary skills for literacy, over 60% of them are women. Six hundred seventeen million children do not meet the minimum requirements for literacy and mathematics. 15% of the world is illiterate. Over 60% of non-literate people are women and children.
UNESCO advocates for empowerment through education. Things that young women and men strive to be are unreachable and getting to be even more so. This is especially true for young women in impoverished countries who cannot make it to school under the best circumstances. Without literacy, there couldn’t be women as leaders, doctors, lawyers, or civil rights activists.
In fact, when the pandemic hit, 91 percent of students and 63,000,000 teachers around the world were affected. Literacy programs have come to a dead stop. Education and literacy for .adults were never included in the educational plan of shut down at all.The education canyon (there is no more education “gap”) is widening exponentially each moment that we don’t help.
The theme of UNESCO’s summit this year was “Literacy teaching and learning in the COVID-19 crisis and beyond”. People in developing countries all over the world are feeling the effects of this pandemic. Schools closed down affecting people around the globe. And true to form, the populations that have it worst in the world are the impoverished people in the Middle East and Western Africans, especially Women.
In Western Africa, girls and women have lacked education for centuries. Via sexism, SGBV (far more children and young girls have been victims since the pandemic), lack of school resources, and lack of menstrual products, women are denied literacy. Now, during the COVID crisis, the few children who used to have the opportunity are going with no school. Many governments are trying to enable children by making lessons available via television and radio. There are no teachers available to them. There are no assignments to be turned in. In the great majority of homes, there is not a television nor a radio. This leaves even fewer children with education than before.
Ms. Rita Bissoonauth, Head of Mission, International Centre for Girls and Women’s Education in Africa, represented the African Union at the summit. She informed and warned viewers of the situation girls and young women face there, especially in western Africa where the youth and adult literacy rate is, on average, less 50%. Young women face difficulties both in attending school at home and in returning to school when it opens again. Pregnancy due to SGBV because men are out of work, discouragement by parents, and personal despair at missing so much school are among them. She urged panelists to keep this global threat to women in mind. She encouraged advocacy, awareness, and providing resources for teaching resources in Africa.
As bad as the education gap was before COVID-19, it is only going to get worse unless something is done via grassroots movements and Non-Profit Organizations, volunteers and civilians. Young women and girls across the world need more education, less stigma, and more supplies to get to school. More literacy means more empowered women and girls, and more women in leadership positions.
The countries that are impoverished will become infinitely less so. Literacy builds opportunities; It means more jobs and higher education for women. Then, there will be a chance for the true equality we need in literacy to improve life and empowerment to excel even more.
International Literacy Day was on Tuesday. In my perfectionism, especially at research I started this article Tuesday and am posting today. There have been numerous publications by UNESCO in response to the summit already.
To Educate Yourself:
UNESCO Literacy Day 2020 Materials
Stella's Girls offers FREE tutoring and mentoring to all children from 3rd-12th grades. This began last year, when schools started shutting down to help women and parents make sure children were getting the education and support they needed.
The program started again this year, in attempt to ease the stress of children who are out of school and alleviate some of the pressure everyone is going through.
Liberian Women Protest Government's Inaction Toward Rape
Rape of babies, girls, boys, and women in Liberia has been rampant for decades. Since the beginning of COVID, instances of rape have ballooned in Liberia. A month ago, over 600 cases of rape had been reported since the pandemic hit. Of those 600 cases, 100 made it to court and almost 50 were acquitted.
The rate at which reports are made of Sexual Gender-Based Violence is still on the rise. This does not include the assaults that go unreported. Nor, does it include women and children that were deceased or displaced as a result of their assault. Liberia is the size of Louisiana State, roughly 43,000 square miles.
President George Weah, who previously coined himself “Feminist-in-Chief”, called a National State of Emergency in Liberia because of the COVID pandemic. Thousands of young Liberian women, children, and men have been calling for a National State of Emergency against rape and Sexual Gender-Based Violence for the last 3 days in Monrovia. They had a petition for the President. He didn’t look at it. The protesters stayed peaceful. Officials did not.
The peaceful protest was planned by the Affiliation of Women and Child’s Rights Advocates to occur over 3 days, from Tuesday, August 25th through Thursday, August 27th. By every account, the majority of rape and sexual violence that occurs in Liberia happens to babies and children. It was babies that set “The March for Justice” in motion in Monrovia and other counties in Liberia. The rapes of several toddlers came into the national spotlight. The most publicized and horrifyingly gruesome rape was perpetrated by a 17-year-old young man upon a 3-year-old girl. This was shortly after a man admitted to raping 2 yr old twins in June.
The Petition Statement He Won't Accept
The protestors marched against the government, clad all in black for solidarity. They carried signs calling for an end to rape and the allowance of it. Their destination was Capitol Hill in Monrovia, where a petition for more protections against rape was presented to the 54th Legislature. They were addressed by 14 yr old Irene Smith. Part of the petition statement opening she read to the Legislature:
“Our mothers and daughters are under attack daily by predators that have no fear of bearing the full weight of the law. These outrageous acts are only persisting because our justice system has been so weak that perpetrators commit these atrocities and go scot-free; because our laws have been made lax and created loopholes for these criminals to exploit... We are here to say Enough is Enough”.
The petition statement calls for:
-special courts designed for Sexual Gender-Based Violence (SGBV)
-more after health-care for victims. Many cannot bear children when they grow up.
-increased funds for courts to have speedy trials of rape and SGBV cases
-safe-houses for survivors
-Town Hall meetings communities to work with officials on awareness and remedies
-increased funding for further training and education of the Women and Children Protection Division of the National Police
-Legislative supervision of related organizations such as the Ministry of Gender, the Liberian National Police, the Ministry of Health, and Social and Child Protection
When the young women and men involved in the march arrived outside of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, where the President’s office is, they were met with a handful of officials. This included the Minister of Gender, Children, and Social Protection, Williametta Piso Saydee-Tarr. The people wouldn’t give the petition to her. Her title belies her actions. They wanted only the President to receive the petition. Receive it, he did not. He never came out to meet them. They waited through the first day, Tuesday, August 25th and they waited through the 26th.
The People He Won't Hear
Wednesday afternoon, the thousands of young women and men gathered to protest SBGV in Liberia were stoned by men known to be affiliated with Monrovian Mayor Jefferson Koijee. Koijee is the chairman of the Youth League. One of the men was a ranking official of the Youth League, Boimah A. D Sawyer. When Sawyer and the men accompanying him were denied passage through the blockade and into the protestors, they resorted to throwing stones and insults at the police and the peacefully protesting young women and men. They were chased away by police officers, just to rejoin and taunt police and protestors. Many people are blaming the Mayor for the disruption. Mr. Pekeleh Gbuapaye, the Head of the Press and Public Affairs claims Mayor Koijee in favor of the protest and that he would be in touch with the National Police to investigate the disturbance.
From Keeping the Peace to Tear Gas Overnight
Thursday, August 27th the protestors began arriving. A joint task force of the National Police, Liberian DEA, Liberia Immigration Service, and the National Fire Service tried to deter them from gathering. They threw tear gas and assaulted the protestors. Organizers of the protest said they would remain until the President receives the petition.
The police were able to keep some of the rape protestors away. Those that didn’t make it to the Ministry congregated on the lawn in front of the previous Liberian president’s home. She went out to sit, talk, and join with them. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf commended and supported the protestors, saying, “Today, they gathered in front of my yard. I could not stay in my house and see all those women out there demonstrating for something that is good for the country and not go there to show solidarity with them."
As of this writing, it is Thursday night in the United States. The President of Liberia hasn’t received the petition statement. Developments are still occurring in Liberia. Who knows what is in store tomorrow for the brave young women and men standing up and demanding justice for Sexual Gender-Based Violence. I will update when I find out.
The 100th Anniversary of the 19th Amendment and the Inequality of It
My name is Jamie, and I am profoundly blessed to be the Chief Content Manager and Lead Blog Writer for Stella's Girls, where our mission is to empower young women to become leaders and social advocates in their communities.