Northeastern Professor Visits Liberia to Promote Awareness of Gender-Based Violence

October 14, 2008

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.

For more information, please contact Jenny Catherine Eriksen at 617-373-2802 or at j.eriksen@neu.edu.

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