October 14, 2008 – Through a grant from the Office of the Provost at North­eastern Uni­ver­sity, Dr. Robin Chan­dler, Asso­ciate Pro­fessor of African Amer­ican Studies, recently trav­eled to Liberia to con­duct research on the inci­dence of gender-​​based vio­lence in the country.

By meeting with Liberian women’s groups, non-​​governmental orga­ni­za­tions (NGOs), reli­gious leaders and gov­ern­ment offi­cials in Liberia, Chan­dler said she hoped to encourage and sup­port Liberia’s efforts to create a system equipped to handle the vic­tims of gender-​​based vio­lence and to develop a judi­cial system that pros­e­cutes those who commit acts of such crimes.

Chan­dler devel­oped con­tacts in Liberia while serving as Northeastern’s Director of Women’s Studies and inau­gu­rating the annual con­fer­ence on women, war, and vio­lence in 2006. Her cur­rent research in Liberia will be fea­tured as a chapter in a new book, which she is co-​​editing, enti­tled Women, War and Vio­lence: Per­sonnel Per­spec­tives and Global Activism.

The war-​​ravaged Liberia, where a 14-​​year civil war did not end until 2003, dev­as­tated the country’s infra­struc­ture. Acts of sexual exploita­tion and assault, such as rape, were so preva­lent that they became a normal part of life, said Chandler.

The nor­mal­iza­tion of rape evolved because of the dura­tion of con­flict in Liberia, leaving nearly half of Liberia’s women as vic­tims of rape,” she said.

In 2005, Ellen Johnson-​​Sirleaf became the first female elected a head of state in Africa. As the Pres­i­dent of Liberia, she now works to change a cul­ture in which women are vic­tims of gender-​​based violence.

During her elec­tion speech, Johnson-​​Sirleaf talked about the issues of crimes against women and chil­dren, and I wanted to explore how a war-​​ravaged society had come to such a point,” said Chan­dler. “My goal was to con­tex­tu­alize other issues as con­tributing fac­tors – poverty, illit­eracy and unem­ploy­ment – and focus on gender-​​based vio­lence issues.”

While in Liberia, Chan­dler was accom­pa­nied by Dr. Saaim Naame, sec­re­tary gen­eral for the Asso­ci­a­tion of Liberian Uni­ver­si­ties and pro­fessor at Cut­tington Uni­ver­sity in Mon­rovia, and Fred­ercia Perkins, the exec­u­tive director of the Para­mount Young Women Ini­tia­tive, who pro­vided guid­ance on the cur­rent gender-​​based vio­lence pro­grams and ini­tia­tives already in place.

Chan­dler con­ducted inter­views with leaders in the Min­istry of Edu­ca­tion, the Min­istry of Labor, the Min­istry of Gender, women’s and legal groups, NGO’s, women in Liberia’s peace move­ment, and com­mu­nity and church leaders, to inves­ti­gate the inci­dence of gender-​​based vio­lence. She also exam­ined the inter­ven­tions, laws, and poli­cies in place to alle­viate gender-​​based violence.

In speaking with local leaders, I got to hear their per­spec­tives on how they are rebuilding the judi­cial and edu­ca­tion sys­tems that will hope­fully stem the tide of sexual exploita­tion and the abuse of women,” added Chandler.

During meet­ings with The Daily Observer, an inde­pen­dent news­paper in Mon­rovia, Liberia, Chan­dler advised the paper to pub­lish sto­ries every day about gender-​​based vio­lence so that the con­scious­ness of cit­i­zens is raised. In addi­tion, she empha­sized, pub­lished sto­ries have the poten­tial to bring jus­tice to vic­tims of gender-​​based vio­lence, women and chil­dren who have been raped and abused, by helping to iden­tify the per­pe­tra­tors of these crimes.

It is impor­tant to bring this issue to the fore­front using the media so that more vio­la­tors of gender-​​based vio­lence can be pros­e­cuted,” said Chan­dler. She also con­ducted inter­views on a local tele­vi­sion sta­tion and on the United Nations Mis­sion in Liberia radio sta­tion. Chan­dler was also hon­ored at a recep­tion held at the U.S. Embassy in Monrovia.

Today, 80 per­cent of the people in Liberia are illit­erate and 85 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion is unem­ployed. To help combat these issues, the national gov­ern­ment posts bill­boards in Liberia’s cap­ital city of Mon­rovia to raise aware­ness of HIV and tuber­cu­losis, and to inform the public that rape is now a cap­ital offense. The national bill­board cam­paign includes visual images and text to edu­cate illit­erate pop­u­la­tions. The Asso­ci­a­tion of Female Lawyers of Liberia now also trains lawyers, court offi­cials, and mem­bers of the police force about gender-​​based vio­lence as many are still not aware of the moral and legal dimen­sions of rape.

To help edu­cate young women in Liberia, Chan­dler, with her col­leagues and friends, paid reg­is­tra­tion fees for 10 female stu­dents to attend school for one year begin­ning in fall 2008.

The issue of edu­ca­tion is so impor­tant, and if Liberia is able to over­come these tragedies, edu­ca­tion, both formal and informal, will play the largest role,” said Chan­dler. “This society needs to unlearn this destruc­tive behavior in order to evolve as a civil society, and the gov­ern­ment and laws are being re-​​aligned to respect women in all sec­tors of society.”

In addi­tion to her work in Liberia, Chan­dler received a Ful­bright schol­ar­ship to study in South Africa and has received other grants and honors during her aca­d­emic career.

For more infor­ma­tion about Dr. Chandler’s research, please con­tact Jenny Eriksen at (617) 373‑2802 or via email at j.​eriksen@​neu.​edu.