Entrepreneurs in Liberia
Women who live in rural areas of Sub-Saharan Africa are more likely than their counterparts to suffer from poverty. They are unable to achieve their full potential due to inequalities. Because of this and a lack of resources, women have no other choice but to live in poverty. Structural poverty affects women in Sub-Saharan Africa. This is the economic, social and political background of the country. In 2018, Liberia ranked 155 out of 162 countries on the Gender Inequality Index. Despite these challenges, many women are turning into entrepreneurs in Liberia through the help of the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC).

The Situation

In rural areas, women make up 60% of the population and are the backbones of the community. Despite continuous contributions to their family and socioeconomic progress, their hard work rarely benefits them. Their work continuously goes unnoticed and bears no reward in the areas they are living in. Agriculture and forestry are the foundations of Liberia’s economy. Women make up more than half of the agricultural workers. With no time for education, they end up vulnerable to the possibility of poverty. Taking care of the household and tasks such as fetching water, fuel and fodder are just a few tasks that restrict the time of women.

How BRAC Helps Women Become Entrepreneurs in Liberia

With a mission to help, Sir Fazle Hasan Abed founded a nonprofit organization, the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC), to empower those people in poverty. Its mission is to empower people and communities in situations of poverty, illiteracy, disease and social injustice. One humanitarian movement has had an impact on Liberian women. About 750 women in Liberia received training to help them overcome poverty as part of the Ultra-Poor Graduation Program. This method is the graduation approach.

With a focus on women, the approach successfully aided 750 women in becoming microentrepreneurs. The graduation approach provides “consumption support” at the beginning of the program until students can afford food themselves, a safe place to store their savings, training according to their aspirations and asset transfer. Lastly, the students go through technical and life skills training.

Improvement is Possible

As of 2021, 90% of the households have multiple sources of income, savings have increased by $9.14, average loan size jumped from $17.10 to $57.14 and the average nutritious meal consumed has grown as well. The improvements are all results of the power of women and the well-deserved push the program gave them. The once poverty-stricken women that lived on almost less than $1 a day are now entrepreneurs in Liberia with their own businesses or run their farms and breed livestock for a living. All it took was a helping hand.

The Importance of BRAC in Liberia

The purpose of BRAC programs is to reduce poverty and they serve as stepping stones for the betterment of Liberia. The effect of BRAC programs spans 12 Liberian counties and serves several other countries around the world.

BRAC programs alone have ensured that 23.9% of participants have access to adequate amounts of food and increased monthly income by 36.8% after 2 years. Aside from improving food security, BRAC also provides employment opportunities. Out of 494 staff members, 94% of them are Liberians and 30% of the management team are women. Programs like BRAC are useful in providing education, jobs, empowerment and livelihood to the community. Although BRAC only began in 2008, it is continuing on its mission to reduce poverty in Liberia.

– Destiny Jackson
Photo: Flickr

Women’s Rights in Liberia
Although there have been steps toward equal rights for women, some countries are struggling more than others. In Liberia, gender disparities and imbalances are common. To put it another way, there is little appreciation or recognition for the contributions of women to the Liberian community. However, progress has occurred in regard to improving women’s rights in Liberia and gender equality.

The Root of Inequality

In Liberia, traditional and religious insight impacts gender inequality and the neglect of women. This leaves women underrepresented, uneducated and undermined. Gender inequality plays a major role in the rights of women. They have no one to advocate for their rights but themselves. This would not be as unfortunate if women had a right to equal education. While contributing all of their time to family and working, women have less time to focus on education and social life. Furthermore, the stringent roles and responsibilities of women have prevented them from being able to partake in society and benefit development.

The Roles of Women

Women account for more than 50% of the labor in agriculture, cash production and food crop production, along with marketing and trading in Liberia. Despite their heavy role in the workforce, private and public sectors do not even honor the law of allowing pregnant women to go on maternity leave. They are also responsible for taking care of the household and doing additional work on the side, such as gathering wood and water. Despite their roles in agriculture, women own less property and have no other option than to be dependent on male relatives. The discrimination in land ownership is due to biases in the formal legal framework and customary law. Men are also more likely than women to inherit the land, control decision-making, allocation, management and the use of land.

Besides a woman’s role economically, they also experience a high risk of violent behavior against them in Liberia. These acts of violent behavior can include female genital mutilation, wife burning, dowry-related violence, rape, incest, wife battering, female femicide, female infanticide, trafficking, early marriage, teenage pregnancy, execution and prostitution. Any violence against women is a human rights violation according to the Geneva Conventions. The Geneva Conventions and their protocols provide protection against discrimination against women, allowing women to be equal to men under the Humanitarian Law, subsequently improving women’s rights in Liberia.

Aid and Hope

Another aid established is the 2009 National Gender Policy, which fights to abolish all gender issues. The main goal is to form a fair society where girls and boys along with women and men enjoy their human rights equally on a basis of non-discrimination. In other words, where the full potentials of all, regardless of sex, are harassed toward achieving unprejudiced rapid economic growth which includes equal access to social, financial and technological resources.

Inconsistency in the national legislature has delayed the implementation of the National Gender Policy. After President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf became Africa’s first female president, men began to recognize the possibility of a woman in power. As the President of Liberia from 2006 to 2018, she secured millions of dollars in foreign investment. She also formed a Truth and Reconciliation Committee to investigate corruption and heal ethnic tensions.

The history and roles of women in Liberia are what drive the ongoing evolution of women’s rights. The more women who have representation, the better the chances are for their rights. Changes start as small policies and fill bigger shoes such as presidencies. Although improvements are still necessary, any is better than none at all.

– Destiny Jackson
Photo: Flickr

Disability and Poverty in Liberia
Not everyone with a disability is poor, but countless studies have shown that a large number of those in poverty have at least one disability, ranging from physical to mental types of disabilities. Since those with disabilities require significant access to healthcare, the cost of medical treatments can pose a challenge. Additionally, disabled people frequently find it challenging to access housing, find employment or afford food. A strong connection exists between disability and poverty in Liberia, as is the case with other countries.

Disability and Poverty in Liberia

Liberia is a country along the southern part of the west coast of Africa, which Sierra Leone, Guinea and Côte d’Ivoire surround. It has a population of approximately 4.9 million. The country is Africa’s first republic and is the only African country to never have experienced colonial rule.

From 1999-2003, Liberia endured a harsh civil war. Public Services International believes that this war may have contributed to the increase of disability in Liberia from an initially reported 16% in 1997 to nearly 20%, which is significantly higher than the world’s average at 10%. Of those with disabilities in Liberia, “61% have a mobility disability, 24% are visually impaired, 7% are deaf, and 8% have an intellectual or psychosocial disability.” According to Elizabeth’s Legacy of Hope, 99% of the 48% in poverty in Liberia are those with disabilities.

Non-accommodating infrastructure and social attitudes based on stigmas play a large part in disadvantaging the disabled community in Liberia. Many cannot exercise the basic right to an education, leading then to unemployment. The author Morgan Ashenfelter wrote that “educational facilities do not cater to their needs, employment is difficult to find, sidewalks barely exist in the city and most businesses and government buildings do not even have a ramp. . . . in addition, some disabilities, such as post-traumatic stress disorder or missing limbs, are stigmatized, as they are associated negatively with the war.” 

Addressing Disability and Poverty in Liberia

In the years since the end of Liberia’s civil war, the country has taken steps toward listening to and protecting its disabled population. Liberia established the National Commission on Disabilities in 2005, an organization focused on creating policies to aid disabled Liberian people. In the 12th Session of the United Nations Conference of State Parties to the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities, Liberia announced that it adopted a National Action Plan for the Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities. The goal of this plan was to promote the welfare and rights of the disabled in Liberia, while also aiming to include them in the governance process and provide them with financial assistance through social security. Liberia is also planning on including sign language as a required course from elementary school to college.

In December 2018, the Liberia Labor Congress held a joint workshop with the ILO Bureau for Workers’ Activities to discuss the issue of providing work for those with disabilities. Ideally, this work should be able to lift the majority out of poverty, while addressing the lack of significant progress in the last decade and the discrimination that kept many with disabilities out of the workforce.

Looking Ahead

A significant link exists between disability and poverty in Liberia, though it is evident that Liberia is working to change that. The disabled community is among the most vulnerable communities, and it is important that they receive equal opportunities to their non-disabled peers. Liberia is continuing to take steps toward addressing the social stigma and disadvantages that its disabled community experiences.

– Grace Ingles
Photo: Flickr

Ending Period Poverty
Unfortunately, 1.2 billion women and adolescents cannot afford menstrual products each year. Period poverty can encompass the lack of water, sanitation, hygienic products and education, putting women of all ages at risk. Approximately 500 million women and adolescents have trouble accessing menstrual products in developed and developing countries, including Liberia. Here is some information about the state of period poverty in Liberia.

About Period Poverty in Liberia

Periods do not only take a physical toll on women and adolescents, they also impact women’s mental health. This particularly occurs when these women are just hitting puberty.

Joyce Nimely, an alumnus of Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study Program (YES), shed light on how mental health and periods align with one another. The Liberian native said that “I learned that menstruation causes serious problems for women and girls physically and emotionally. It results in mood swings, it is painful, and causes changes in the body.” Nimely defined the most detrimental aspect of period poverty, the lack of access to menstrual products. This challenge frequently leads to women and girls missing out on work and school.

Limited Hygiene Products

A lack of hygienic products causes one in five girls to skip school or drop out to avoid chances of ruining their only school uniform or because this fact caused their uniform to be ruined. In the country, the majority of women have suffered from gender violence at home. Period poverty increases the risk of experiencing gender violence by 20%, with women and adolescents staying home because they do not have the essentials to maintain their period.

One in four women struggles to purchase period products. Joyce Nimely addressed what girls and women do if they cannot access hygienic products in her YES program story. The Alumnus wrote that “Many young girls in Liberia don’t have money to buy sanitary products because of its high price. Girls and women often end up using materials like newspapers, tissue, and rags. These materials cause womb cancer, infections and other diseases that may hinder pregnancy or childbirth.” However, the desperations for fundamental human rights go further than what Joyce Nimely mentions. A lack of period products leads Liberian women to use corn husks, dirtbags and animal feces as alternative products for maintaining cycles. These homemade period products lead to poor health and death because Liberian women cannot stay clean without hygienic materials and do not always have proper education on self-care.

The #GiveAPad and #FreeThePeriod Campaigns

Women from Liberia have developed organizations to help Liberian women and girls. Joyce Nimely strongly believes that menstruation should not get in the way of a girl’s education. This influenced her to build a team of Liberian people who previously worked in the YES program or had an interest in ending period poverty. The group formed the #GiveAPad and #FreeThePeriod campaigns. These campaigns consisted of them going door to door to receive donations of traditional and reusable sanitary pads.

Nimely described the origin story of her movement stating that “With the knowledge I had in making reusable sanitary pads, I realized it’s an asset that could be used in the mission to end period poverty because it could serve as an alternative when regular pads aren’t available…Since I wouldn’t always be available to make pads for these girls, my team and I decided to teach them how to make their own reusable sanitary pads.” Thus, Joyce Nimely and her team selflessly taught valuable skills that would improve the lives of multiple girls in her home country.

Miss Therchie Williams and the Miss Philanthropy Africa Initiative

Miss Therchie Willams from Maryland County, Liberia, toured 22 communities in Liberia to distribute sanitary pads and educate other girls about menstrual hygiene. She was able to do this with the help of the Miss Philanthropy Africa Initiative. This nongovernmental organization teaches women to advocate and improves the quality of life for low-income women and children of Africa. Miss Philanthropy focuses on empowerment, the value of creations and the progression of platforms that impact Liberia’s development.

Another woman who stepped up to the plate is Grace Clarke. Grace Clarke grew up in Monrovia, Liberia getting a first-hand experience of period poverty. Clarke said “That was definitely an experience that made me understand the significance of the lack of pads and period products of my hometown. It was something I could relate to.” Clarke is now the founder of PADS for Girls, and with the help of her sister, she was able to get 176-period products in nine Liberia communities.

Period poverty in Liberia is prevalent leaving Liberian women and girls at risk, but various organizations are restoring their human rights one step at a time.

– Alexis Jones

Photo: Flickr

Polio Vaccines in Liberia
After enduring a surge in COVID-19 cases during the month of June 2021, Liberia may be experiencing some relief in its battle to beat the pandemic. According to Dr. Francis Karteh, a chief medical officer in Liberia, the country’s COVID-19 cases declined in the week leading up to July 12, 2021. However, Karteh also emphasized that the Liberian people must remain diligent in their COVID-19 prevention measures. The highly contagious Delta variant may regain strength if individuals become too relaxed. Nevertheless, this news offers hope for the country’s desire to move toward reopening businesses. But, even as COVID-19 infections decline in Liberia, vaccine hesitancy persists. This distrust of vaccines does not solely apply to the coronavirus vaccine though. UNICEF is currently undertaking efforts to reassure Liberians about the safety of polio vaccines in Liberia.

History and New Vaccine Hesitancy

In 2008, Liberia declared itself a polio-free country as a result of its mass vaccination success. However, Liberia recently discovered a circulating vaccine-derived poliovirus (VDPV) strain that stems from what was originally contained in the oral polio vaccine but has evolved to behave “more like the wild or naturally occurring virus.” Consequently, VDPV is more transmittable to the unvaccinated, especially in areas with inadequate sanitary conditions.

For this reason, the eradication of the poliovirus relies on the continued vaccination of children. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic forced Liberia to halt immunization programs, and as poliovirus infections increased, in February 2021, Liberia’s Ministry of Health announced the poliovirus outbreak as a “public health emergency” for the country.

On top of this, as Liberia begins to resume its polio vaccination operations, individuals are more hesitant about the polio vaccines. Following a year of COVID-19 vaccine misinformation circulating the globe, many Liberians wonder if one can trust any vaccine. Comfort Morphe, a midwife at Hydro MERCI Clinic, says she can “feel the weight [of the misinformation].”

Additionally, Mohamed Shariff, a teacher in the Liberian city of Monrovia, said that the campaign for polio vaccines in Liberia has had to evolve since there have been “so many refusals.” Many find the polio vaccine hesitancy peculiar since Liberia has “been using [the poliovirus vaccine] for years.” With vaccine uncertainty festering throughout the country, it is more challenging to quell the current rise in poliovirus infections.

UNICEF Partnership

Fortunately, in an effort to reduce vaccine hesitancy, UNICEF is partnering with Liberia’s Ministry of Health to communicate factual polio vaccine information through “radio talk shows, community engagement meetings, SMS” as well as posters and banners. The use of SMS notifications is especially beneficial since some communities in Liberia do not have stable internet access.

Volunteers also use the door-to-door approach to speak with parents on the importance of vaccinating children. Ummu Paasewe, for example, who works for Liberia’s Ministry of Health as a community mobilization officer, described how her team assures mothers that the vaccine is “the same kind of oral polio vaccine but more advanced” to combat this specific variation of the poliovirus. As a mother herself, Paasewe’s children are vaccinated and she contends that “immunization is a preventative method.”

Looking Forward

Other countries also see the benefits of supporting Liberia’s vaccination efforts. The Japanese government has supplied UNICEF with $2.7 million since 2020 to support women’s and children’s health in Liberia. Moreover, one of the Japanese government’s chief objectives is to get Liberians vaccinated against the poliovirus and COVID-19.

UNICEF representative to Liberia, Laila Omar Gad, stated that “just one child affected by polio is a risk to all children.” However, UNICEF volunteers remain optimistic and report that they have convinced many Liberian families about the polio vaccine’s safety and reliability. Through the dedication of Liberia’s Ministry of Health and support from UNICEF and Japan, vaccinating communities against the poliovirus looks to be an achievable goal.

Madeline Murphy
Photo: Flickr

National Learning Assessment SystemEducation quality and learning outcomes are often key to explaining income differences across countries. In sub-Saharan Africa, about 88% of primary and lower secondary school children are “not proficient in reading.” Liberia’s Ministry of Education and the U.S.-based nonprofit Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA) are developing Liberia’s first National Learning Assessment System (NLAS) for the primary learning level. This assessment will help Liberia’s schools switch from a content-based curriculum to a competency-based curriculum that values learning over memorization. The assessment itself will highlight which areas students are learning least to hopefully close the learning gap.

Education’s Role in Poverty Reduction

Education is important for reducing poverty because it increases the rate of return in the economy. Improving access and quality of education ensures a greater development of skills among the population. Using education as a tool for breaking cycles of poverty, the nation’s standard of living increases, accelerating economic growth.

With education, those employed in the formal sector of the economy have the potential to earn higher wages and secure higher-paying jobs as their careers progress. Illustrating this point, every “one year of education is associated with a 10% increase in wages.” Furthermore, research finds that “primary education has a higher rate of return than secondary education.”

Education in Liberia

Emerging from a destructive period of civil unrest and the Ebola epidemic in 2015, the Liberian education system has suffered considerably. Only 44% of primary-age students currently attend school in Liberia. Of the children who attend school, only 54% complete primary education. In addition, there are no national school quality standards in Liberia. According to the Global Partnership for Education, the largest global fund dedicated to education initiatives, “resourcing at county and district levels require improvement.” With the understanding that education is the key to reducing poverty, it is imperative for Liberia’s education system to improve.

The National Learning Assessment System’s Purpose

The purpose of the NLAS is to try to maximize primary education learning by assessing areas where learners are not performing well. This will create the framework for a national standard. Further, the assessment will serve as a reference point for Liberia’s new national curriculum and help the government decide which reforms to undertake in order to produce beneficial educational outcomes.

Pilot Assessment

In a trial of the assessment with the Liberian government, the IPA reached 874 students across six Liberian counties. Students received both oral and written assesments. The healthy distribution of scores suggested that the assessment was neither too difficult nor too easy. Overall, the results found that “in the oral exam, the average sixth grader answered 36% of the questions correctly in language and 61%” in mathematics. However, in the written assessment, the average sixth grader achieved 47% in language and 40% in mathematics.

Given the fact that more than 90% of students “were over-age for their grade,” the trial illustrates that assessments should not be organized by age. Moreover, because of the significant difference in scores between the oral assessment and written assessment, students should be assessed on both types. The pilot project generally recommends written assessments as these tests are “cheaper and easier to administer” but emphasizes the importance of oral examinations to assess oral fluency.

Education as the Key to Poverty Reduction

Initiating a national learning assessment strategy is the first step toward rebuilding Liberia’s education system after years of turmoil. The assessment provides a basis for education reform according to the learning styles, literacy levels and knowledge gaps among students. More importantly, the initiative demonstrates the government’s interest in the advancement of Liberia’s youth and the hope to help disadvantaged citizens rise out of poverty.

– Annarosa Zampaglione
Photo: Pixabay

Healthcare in LiberiaThe 2014-2016 Ebola outbreak in West Africa killed more than 4,800 people in Liberia and infected thousands of others. However, these data points only scratch the surface of Ebola’s effect on healthcare in Liberia. Ebola’s devastation affected the provision of healthcare services in West Africa and caused an additional 10,600 deaths due to HIV, tuberculosis and malaria. In countries such as Liberia, more medical training and equipment means healthcare in Liberia has strengthened since the Ebola outbreak. Ebola exposed the weaknesses in the healthcare system of Liberia and showed the Liberian government and international aid organizations particular areas needing improvement and reform.

The World Bank’s Involvement

After recognizing the struggles of Liberia’s healthcare system during the Ebola epidemic, the World Bank devised specific ways to assist Liberia. For example, in May 2020, the World Bank approved the Institutional Foundations to Improve Service for Health Project for Liberia (IFISH). The four-component program focuses specifically on improving health services and outcomes for women, children and adolescents. The six-year program costs $84 million, of which $54 million of funding comes from the United States. Roughly 50% of the budget will be dedicated to health facilities and construction in Liberia. The program also attempts to lay the groundwork for future Liberian healthcare officials. The program includes training health workers and financing certain undergraduate and postgraduate faculties.

The Yale Capstone Project

For multiple years, the Yale Jackson Institute for Global Affairs has worked alongside the Yale Global Health Institute to create a project-based global health course for Yale seniors. The program allows students to explore the intersection of public health and policy. The students of this program have contributed to recovery efforts in Liberia. The program has assisted in establishing proof to encourage partners and policymakers to undertake significant changes in Liberia’s main medical school. The 2015 class conducted case studies on Rwanda and Ethiopia to generate targeted policy solutions in Liberia. Overall, the partnership was deemed a “win-win” for Liberia and the students involved.

CDC Field Epidemiology Training Program

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has been actively aiding healthcare in Liberia since 2007. However, it did not expand its Liberian focus until the Ebola outbreak. Accompanied by more traditional CDC programs such as malaria intervention and the provision of vaccines, Liberia receives assistance through the CDC’s Field Epidemiology Training Program (FETP). The three-tiered educational initiative aims to equip Liberian healthcare workers with the knowledge and tools to investigate and respond to disease outbreaks. At the close of 2016, Liberia had 115 FETP-trained staff. The FETP graduates will go on to provide field support in response to disease outbreaks across Liberia. With graduates from all 15 counties and 92 health districts in Liberia, fellows of FETP work to contain outbreaks and prevent them from turning into local or global epidemics.

Room for Improvement

Healthcare in Liberia is improving due to Liberia’s coordinated recovery efforts with multiple organizations. Nevertheless, Liberia still battles with increasing civilian access to healthcare and the funding of critical health institutions. For example, two-thirds of rural families need to travel for more than an hour to access a health center. These extended travel times can significantly impact the healthcare outcomes of Liberians. Moreover, hospitals are struggling to survive because funding from donors has slowed since the Ebola outbreak. In Liberia’s health system, primary healthcare facilities are largely underfunded.

While these struggles persist, they should not overshadow the significant improvements made since the Ebola outbreak. With aid, commitment and effort, healthcare in Liberia can improve further.

– Kendall Carll
Photo: Flickr

Child poverty in Liberia
Faced with two civil wars, Liberia has experienced years of poverty. With more than 80% of Liberians living in poverty, the country has been trying to revitalize its economy. Child poverty in Liberia is significant as well. Moreover, the mortality rate for children is high. In addition to this, Liberia ranks in the bottom 10 countries on the Human Development Index. The Human Development Index considers life expectancy, education and income.

Child Poverty in Liberia

According to Action Against Hunger, a stable environment for those living in Liberia has yet to emerge. Funding for healthcare facilities has significantly decreased. Liberian children often do not have proper access to education and healthcare and frequently face abuse or trafficking. As a result of this, many children live on the streets. Furthermore, 40% of children suffer from malnutrition and one in five do not receive proper nourishment. Meanwhile, about 84% of Liberians live below the international poverty line and make around $1.25 a day.

Uncertain Employment Positions

The Liberia Institute for Statistics and Geo-Information Services (LISGIS) collected the following data. The overall information reveals that over 50% live in extreme poverty. In addition to this, 51.2% of families experience food shortages. This survey also shows that unemployment stands at 3.9%, meaning that Liberia has a low unemployment rate. However, the survey characterized around 79.5% of people as having uncertain employment positions whereas 79.9% of people had an informal form of employment.

While Liberia may have a low unemployment rate, many Liberians find it difficult to provide a stable life for their children and family as women average around 5.2 children. Due to small daily wages, women cannot meet children’s financial needs, reiterating the high mortality rate and low life expectancy that Liberian children experience. Due to a parent’s inability to care for a large family, children end up working at young ages.

Organizations Helping Liberian Children

For the past two decades, Save the Children has been addressing Liberian children that the civil war affected. This organization provides aid in areas such as healthcare and protection. It also assists children by providing them tools such as education and spearheading advocacy for child rights. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) is one of many donors that helps Save the Children.

Action Aid is another organization that is assisting impoverished children in Liberia. Action Aid strives to attain social justice and equality and mitigate poverty. This group focuses on women and the younger generations to improve the quality of healthcare, education and children’s rights.

Many efforts have emerged to address the conditions in Liberia, including child poverty. The World Bank has provided $54 million International Development Association (IDA) credit to improve Liberia’s health services for women and children. The IFISH (Institutional Foundations to Improve Services for Health) project has spearheaded the expansion and operations of hospitals. An example is the Redemption Hospital located in Montserrado County. The multiple projects and initiatives should hopefully aid in the elimination of child poverty in Liberia.

– Nicole Sung
Photo: Flickr

Human trafficking in LiberiaWhile the Liberian Government does make some effort to eliminate human trafficking, it does not entirely meet the minimum standard for the elimination of trafficking. Liberia ranks as Tier 2, which indicates that the country does not fully comply with the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) standards. On the other hand, the country does make significant efforts to comply. Liberia has increased internal investigations on trafficking and assigned a budget to the anti-trafficking task force. The TVPA outlines the criteria to meet in order to combat human trafficking in Liberia and all other countries.

The Trafficking Tier System

The U.S. Department designates the ranking for anti-human trafficking compliance. The various tiers represent an evaluation of a government’s actions to combat trafficking. Countries and territories that take great measures to comply with TVPA standards are considered Tier 1. Those that do not fully comply with TVPA standards, but make significant efforts to be compliant, are considered Tier 2. Liberia is one such country that ranks as Tier 2. Tier 3 countries and territories do not comply with the TVPA standards and are not making any significant efforts.

In Liberia, traffickers convicted received unsatisfactory prison terms. Resources and knowledge of trafficking continue to lack in the law enforcement area, thus resulting in ineffective investigations and prosecutions of trafficking crimes. Shelters and services for trafficking victims also remain limited.

Targeting the Most Vulnerable

Women and children are the most vulnerable to trafficking and are generally trafficked from rural areas. Promised better education, improved living conditions and proper jobs in the city, many fall prey. The traffickers themselves are generally trusted people. They can be family members, friends or members of the community. Victims of trafficking are forced into being street beggars and street vendors. Others do hard labor working in rubber plantations or diamond mines. Sex work and domestic service work are also common with trafficked victims.

International trafficking is most common with trustworthy and professional organizations. The trafficking organizations often use the lure of employment. Women from other countries in West Africa are often trafficked and brought to Liberia. The girls are usually trafficked by their own parents for forced marriages.

The Fight Against Trafficking

Liberia has legal and policy frameworks known as the National Anti-Human Trafficking Action Plan. A specialized task force also fights against trafficking in accordance with the anti-human trafficking plan. However, Liberian authorities do not have the appropriate knowledge and skills to properly identify and address human trafficking incidents. Police officers receive little anti-trafficking training, and units do not have the necessary resources to address suspected cases.

The International Development Law Organization (IDLO) implemented a program to help Liberian law enforcement workers and other necessary parties effectively address trafficking cases and support victims. The U.S. Department of State supports the program. IDLO’s program also spreads human trafficking knowledge and awareness to the general public through community-focused plans. Through awareness, people will be less likely to fall victim to traffickers with false promises.

With efforts from organizations supporting anti-human trafficking strategies in Liberia, the most vulnerable people will be protected and supported.

Candice Lewis
Photo: Flickr

Ongoing Harm, Female Genital Mutilation in LiberiaLiberia is one of three West African countries that has not yet made female genital mutation (FGM) illegal. FGM refers to the partial or complete removal of external female genitalia or other harm to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons. Considered a violation of the human rights of girls and women by U.N. Women Liberia, FGM has no health benefits and is extremely harmful.

Legal Activism

In 2018, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia signed the Domestic Violence bill, an executive order that banned FGM performed on girls younger than 18 years old, but the criminalization of FGM was limited to one year and expired in February 2019. The executive order did little to address the part community leaders play in perpetrating this crime. It also failed to change the immense social pressure placed on girls to undergo these treatments. For these reasons, female genital mutilation in Libera continues to be an issue.

International Pressure

The United Nations has been active in its role of fighting to end FGM globally. Due to the lack of policy regarding female genital mutilation in Liberia, Marie Goreth Nizigama, of U.N. Women Liberia, said, “50% of women and girls aged between 15-49 years” have been mutilated. On the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation, Chief Zanzan Karwo who is the leader of Liberia’s National Traditional Council expressed frustration, rebuking international groups that have sought to abolish female genital mutilation in Liberia. He believes that FGM prepares young women to become good wives. Despite pushback, the pressure to end female genital mutilation in Liberia continues. Williametta E. Saydee Tarr, the gender, children and social protection minister in Liberia, claims that plans are being pursued to make FGM permanently illegal.

Cultural Progress

One of the most important aspects in fighting female genital mutilation both in Liberia and globally is engaging cultural leaders and communities in ending the tradition. If cultural attitudes toward FGM fail to change, then progressing human rights for girls and women will significantly decline. As a result of seemingly insurmountable cultural and financial pressures, girls and women willingly subject themselves to mutilation; therefore, even criminalization of FGM cannot end the mutilation without traditions and perspectives changing as well.

Liberia’s fight to end FGM is not restricted to policymaking and criminalization. Yatta Fahnbulleh, owner of a large bush school in Tienii that performed FGM on more than 200 girls, decided to end her engagement in FGM despite its financial benefits. In 2019, Spotlight Initiative aided in the startup of the Alternate Economic Livelihood program. This program provides resources and education to former practitioners. This way they can generate a source of income after losing their livelihood. Providing access to education and financial alternatives is essential in garnering the support of communities who depend on the practice for survival.

Looking Ahead

It is vital that the United Nations continues to place pressure on Liberia despite leaders expressing attachment to the practice. female genital mutilation endangers women and often causes lifelong sustained harm so, the pressure is appropriate and necessary. Alongside the international attention to criminalize FGM, efforts to engage leaders in ending devastating practices are of the utmost importance. The willingness of people like Yatta Fahnbulleh to close her school gives hope that people are willing to end female genital mutilation with proper education, tools and resources to survive.

Hannah Brock
Photo: Flickr