Displaying items by tag: Gender

‘Women, O Women!’ It's the rallying cry of Liberia’s women movement. The cry summons a spirit that emboldens against the timidity that has held many women from venturing on new frontiers. It is a call that awakens women who have grown content with mediocrity and charges them to ‘do something’. It reminds of the inherent qualities that women possess and can employ to be even better. In a proper sense, however, it is a call to battle—a battle against all forms of suppression fostered by a male-dominated society. The struggle aims for a society where women have the opportunity to become productive professionals and not just consigned to the care economy; where customs do not subtract from the bodily integrity of women, and where having a female President is not just an isolated accomplishment. As we celebrate International Women’s Day today, it is important to reflect on the conditions of Liberian women and their pursuit of a more equitable society where governance without meaningful representation and participation of women is only a thing of the past.

In the shadows

Women have not always occupied prominent roles in Liberian society, and their voices have not always been publicly heard.  In order to appreciate the early experiences of Liberian women, however, an assumption of homogeneity must not be made. While findings may vary due to ethnic, religious, and other considerations, a broader examination of women in the Liberian state must consider two groups that generally constituted the state: Americo-Liberians and Natives. Scholars are in agreement that a key commonality between the groups lie in the fact that women were not equal with men. Also, women were the dominant force in domestic work and child-rearing. However, Americo-Liberian women enjoyed some of the most progressive rights enjoyed by women across the world at the time. According to Newman, they could buy and sell land, enter into contracts, bring legal suits and initiate divorces, appeal to the Legislature, and exercise other forms of agency. [1]

In contrast, women in the customary or native setting were lacking in autonomy. According to Fuest, women were married off very young to older men, children belonged to the lineage of the husband, and a woman could lose access to her children and marital property upon the death or divorce of her husband, especially where she refuses to re-marry within the husband’s family. [2] Fuest also relates the unfortunate fact that women were accumulated by powerful men who then redistributed women’s sexual and reproductive services to foster political alliances and win other clients. Also, women did not engage in extensive market activities. But women also yielded other forms of power. The Sande female secret society accumulated resources and wielded considerate power over initiates and members, with the same being recognized by their male counterparts. In the southeast, a council of female elders could deliberate and veto decisions made by men through collective demonstrations, while individual women became political leaders in the Northwest.[3] Most notable is Madam Suakoko who was appointed by President Daniel E. Howard (1912-1920) as Clan Chief of Kiayea.[4] She is credited with unifying the clan; playing a key role in annexing Bong, Lofa, and Nimba, to Liberia; aiding government’s military operations; and contributing to the establishment of three major institutions in the district now named after her: Central Agricultural Research Institute (CARI), Phebe Hospital, and Cuttington University. [5]

Generally, the situation of women in Liberia did not receive major attention until the second half of the twentieth century.

The turning point

Liberian women began to rally against marginalization by the 1930s. The first cooperate move towards their political rights began in 1931 with the Liberian Women’s League under the leadership of Sarah Simpson George. [6] Their engagement began by assisting the government in improving the sanitary conditions of Monrovia. In 1932, another group under the leadership of Maude A. Morris took a more direct approach by petitioning the Legislature to request an amendment of the Constitution to extend suffrage to women. [7] In 1942, President Edwin J. Barclay’s administration passed a “Referendum Act” to amend the Constitution granting women’s right to vote but the amendment did not happen as it was never referred to constituents. [8] In 1946, however, the right to vote and hold political office was finally extended to women under President William V.S. Tubman. [9] This meant that Americo-Liberian women were no more confined to secretarial duties or teaching in schools. [10] Women then began to occupy key offices in government and were elected to the national legislature. For example, Elizabeth Collins became the first female senator, Ellen Mills Scarborough became the first female representative, Etta Wright acted on several occasions as Secretary of Defense, and Angie Brooks rose from a Liberian diplomat to the prestigious position of President of the United Nations General Assembly in 1969. [11] In 1971, Emma Shannon Walser became the first woman to become a judge in Liberia, [12]  and Dr. Mary Antoinette Brown Sherman made history when she was the first woman to be inaugurated as President of the University of Liberia and President of an African institution of higher learning in 1978. [13] At the beginning of the 1980s, women constituted 32.2 percent of the secondary school teachers, 30 percent of the university teachers, 14.7 percent of the judges, 9.4 percent of the doctors and dentists, and 48.2 percent of the nurses. [14]

War Years

The outbreak of the civil war in 1989 greatly affected the vulnerable, including women and children. There are many horrific accounts of rape, torture, and murder meted out against women. Hardship was also endured as a result of conflict-induced displacement. But it is important to note, however, that women were also actors in the conflict. Women units existed amongst all the armed factions, although estimates of the number of women fighters range from 2 to 5% of the total. [15] Some even gained notoriety as fierce warriors. But the war years seem to have made women, even more, stronger as it increased the scope of their economic activities as well as their political involvement.  Women had to step up as many men (husbands, fathers, sons, brothers) were killed or had to flee to hide in the forest. Women were forced to take on traditional tasks of men such as making bricks, building and roofing houses, and clearing farms, while local narratives refer to many women who physically protected their husbands and family members from combatants. [16] Market women made extended businesses by crossing fighting lines into territories where men could not go. Indeed, many analysts agree that since the war, women’s ability to live independently has increased dramatically and many have assumed key roles in society a ‘remarkable emancipation from their pre-war positions’. [17] In a remarkable move towards mainstreaming gender issues across Liberian society, the Ministry of Gender and Development was established in 2001.

Many women’s organizations have emerged since the war era. In fact, women’s organizations were instrumental in ending the 14-year conflict. Thousands of women in white under the umbrella of the Women in Peace Building Network (WIPNET) took to the streets to demand an end to the violence. Women also insisted on being part of peace talks to which only the (male) leaders of the armed factions were invited. [18] This ultimately yielded results. As Chinkin notes, the Comprehensive Peace Accord of 2003 contains gender-relevant provisions: women inclusion in the Governance Reform Commission, women organizations representation in the National Transitional Legislative Assembly, gender balance in all elective and non-elective appointments’ within the National Transitional Government of Liberia, amongst others. [19] Leymah Gbowee and many others came to prominence during this period as they mobilized and organized women across ethnic and religious dividing lines to bring an end to the conflict. Gbowee became a joint recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011 along with fellow country-woman Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Tawakkul Karman of Yemen. [20]


Post-war developments

A major win was soon made on the legal front, with the enactment of an Inheritance Law in 2003 to protect the marriage rights of women. By 2006, history was made with the inauguration of Africa’s first elected female head of state, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. Notably, Madam Ruth Sando Fahnbulleh Perry had served before her as the interim Chairman of the Council of State of Liberia from 3 September 1996 until 2 August 1997. By 2008, women’s representation in the legislature was low at 15%. With Ellen in power, the glass ceiling had been broken and the obvious anticipation was centered around how different she would run the government, including how women would be involved. By 2008 also, women occupied 22% of cabinet positions in the Sirleaf government. She also appointed the first female Chief of Police. An anti-rape law was passed and a fast-track court established to deal with gender-based violence. Hundreds of markets were built or renovated during her regime for thousands of marketers. But Sirleaf’s support for women in politics soon came under question. By 2017, only 4 out of 21 cabinet ministers were female. Pailey and Reeves are of the view that she did nothing to position women favorably for political office citing her refusal to honor a petition from women to support a woman as her party’s candidate for a 2009 by-election. [21] They further contend that Sirleaf did little to increase females in leadership roles within her Party (the Unity Party). According to Pailey and Williams, Sirleaf did not actively support a proposed law granting 30 percent of political party leadership to women as well as a trust fund to finance electoral campaigns. They lament Sirleaf’s silence when another bill allotting five seats for women in the Legislature was rejected by largely male Senators given that a similar bill had already propelled women to high public offices in Rwanda, Senegal, and South Africa. Sirleaf was later expelled from her  party days before leaving office. [22] She was reinstated by the National Elections Commission the following year.[23]

Another major criticism of Sirleaf was her defense of nepotism and seeming unwillingness to tackle corruption. Admittedly, Liberia reached its highest score of 41 on the Corruption Perceptions Index of Transparency International in 2012 largely due to anti-corruption legislation and institutions established during her administration. However, the political will to investigate and prosecute persons of corruption was lacking. Fellow Nobel Laureate, Leymah Gbowee resigned from the Peace and Reconciliation Commission criticizing Sirleaf’s decision to appoint her three sons to senior government positions.

The checkered legacy of Sirleaf arguably stands in the way of future female contenders for the highest office. However, the legacies of male Presidents have not been any better. So while Sirleaf might have disappointed in different respects, opportunities still exist for women in politics, as well as for generally increasing the role of women in the life of the nation. President George M. Weah seemed to have jumped at this opportunity when he declared himself feminist-in-chief upon taking office. But only a few years later, his party (Coalition for Democratic Change) submitted its candidates for the Senatorial Elections without a single female candidate. [24] Currently, only 5 out of his 19 cabinet ministers are females. [25]

All hope is not lost, however. We remain hopeful that the women of Liberia stay true to their commitment to achieving a just and equitable society for all. We celebrate the many women, known and unknown, who sacrificed for a better Liberia. Some got a glimpse of it during their lifetime and others did not. To those who currently bear this task, the nation looks up to you. A better Liberia is possible. Women, O Women!

About the Authors

Gerald Dan Yeakula is a Liberian lawyer currently based at the Center for Human Rights, University of Pretoria in South Africa where he is pursuing a Master’s of Law Degree in Human Rights and Democratization in Africa. He is Program Manager at the Center for Transparency and Accountability in Liberia (CENTAL).

Akiah Precious Glay holds a Doctorate in Sociology with Emphasis in Conflict Escalation from the Selçuk University, Konya, Turkey, Master’s in Peace and Conflict Studies: Nicolaus Copernicus University Torun, Poland and the Kofi Annan Institute for Peace Studies, University of Liberia. She currently serves as the Gender Officer at CENTAL

Leelah P. Semore holds a Masters in Environmental Science from the Cuttington University and a Bachelor in Plant and Soil Science from the same university. She is currently a Program Assistant at CENTAL.


[1] D Newman, ‘The Emergence of Liberian Women in the Nineteenth Century’ Howard University, Washington, DC, 1984, pp. 197–8, 378–9.

[2] V Fuest ‘“This is the Time to Get in Front”: Changing Roles and Opportunities for Women in Liberia’ (2008) 107 African Affairs 201.

[3] As above

[4][4] ‘Madame Suakoko’ (Historical Preservation Society of Liberia) <https://www.hpsol-liberia.net/madame-suakoko/> accessed 7 March 2022.

[5] As above

[6] ‘The Federation journal. ([North Carolina]) 1945-19??, March 01, 1953, Image 1 · North Carolina Newspapers’ <https://newspapers.digitalnc.org/lccn/2016236536/1953-03-01/ed-1/seq-1/ocr/> accessed 7 March 2022.

[7] As above

[8] As above

[9] AE Brooks ‘Political Participation of Women in Africa South of the Sahara’ (1968) 375 The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 82.

[10] (n 2) Above

[11] C Brooks ‘Liberia Celebrates William V. S. Tubman’s 122nd Birth Anniversary Tomorrow, November 29th’ (Global News Network) <https://gnnliberia.com/2017/11/28/liberia-celebrates-william-v-s-tubmans-122nd-birth-anniversary-tomorrow-november-29th/> accessed 7 March 2022.

[12] ‘Liberia: Liberian Women Unite to Push for More Seats in the Legislature’ (FrontPageAfrica) <https://frontpageafricaonline.com/politics/liberia-liberian-women-unite-to-push-for-more-seats-in-the-legislature/> accessed 7 March 2022.

[13] ‘Pres. Sirleaf Inducts Dr. Ophelia Weeks As 14th President of University of Liberia’ (FrontPageAfrica) <https://frontpageafricaonline.com/news/2016news/pres-sirleaf-inducts-dr-ophelia-weeks-as-14th-president-of-university-of-liberia/> accessed 8 March 2022.

[14] (n 2) Above

[15] M Moran ‘Our Mothers Have Spoken: Synthesizing Old and New Forms of Women’s Political Authority in Liberia’ (2012) 13 17.

[16] (n 2) Above

[17] As above

[18] (n 15) above

[19] Chinkin, ‘Gender, international legal framework and peacebuilding’.

[20] ‘The Nobel Peace Prize 2011’ (NobelPrize.org) <https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/peace/2011/press-release/> accessed 8 March 2022.

[21] RN Pailey and KR Williams ‘Africa at LSE: Is Liberia’s Sirleaf really standing up for women? #LiberiaDecides’ 3.

[22] ‘Ellen Johnson Sirleaf: The legacy of Africa’s first elected female president’ BBC News (22 January 2018) <https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-42748769> accessed 8 March 2022.

[23]Admin ‘Former President Sirleaf, others back to Unity Party’ (Liberia Public Radio, 23 June 2019) <https://liberiapublicradio.com/2019/06/03/former-president-sirleaf-others-back-in-unity-party/> accessed 8 March 2022.

[24] ‘Liberia’s self-proclaimed “feminist president” Weah fails to nominate woman candidate’ (RFI, 12 August 2020) <https://www.rfi.fr/en/africa/20200812-liberia-s-self-proclaimed-feminist-president-weah-fails-to-nominate-woman-candidate-politics-africa> accessed 8 March 2022.

[25] C Brooks ‘LIBERIA: Women NGO Critiques President Weah’s SONA’ (GNN Liberia) <https://gnnliberia.com/2022/02/05/liberia-women-ngo-critiques-president-weahs-sona/> accessed 8 March 2022.

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By: Atty. Bendu Kpoto


Trafficking predates the Liberian state. In fact, Liberia’s history would be incomplete without acknowledging the gory details of trafficking that characterized significant epochs of its existence. From the repatriation of former slaves from the United States in 1821,[i] to the active participation by the indigenous population in the slave trade, and the Fernando Po Labor Crisis of 1929-30, amongst others, the past has transmitted hard facts, which undoubtedly continues to haunt us today.

Until December 2000, the term “trafficking in persons” was not defined in international law, despite its incorporation in several international legal instruments. The long-standing failure to develop an agreed-upon definition of trafficking in persons reflected major differences of opinion concerning the ultimate end result of trafficking, its constitutive acts and their relative significance, as well as similarities and differences between trafficking and related issues such as irregular migration and the facilitated cross-border movement of individuals into prostitution or irregular employment.[ii]

The United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children, also known as the Palermo Protocol defines “Trafficking In Persons” as: “the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of a person by means of the threat or use of force or other means of coercion, or by abduction, fraud, deception, abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability, or by the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation.”  

There is a dearth of information on trafficking in persons in Liberia regarding the last half of the 20th century. Even today, there exists little data on trafficking in Liberia. Such unavailability of data, however, must not be interpreted as the non-existence of trafficking in present-day Liberia but should rather be viewed in context. It is often a challenge getting reliable data due to the complex nature of trafficking, encompassing un-documentation of workers and immigrants.

Liberia remains a source, transit, and destination for the trafficking of men, women and children. [iii] According to the 2019 US State Department’s Report on TIPS, most victims originate from and are exploited within the country’s borders, where they are subjected to domestic servitude, forced begging, sex trafficking, or forced labor in street vending, gold and alluvial diamond mines, and on small-scale rubber plantations. Women and children from rural areas are among the most vulnerable; lured by the promise of education, better living conditions or a good job in the city. Traffickers are mostly extended family members or trusted persons from the community. Generally, victims end up forcibly employed as beggars or street vendors, in diamond mines, on rubber plantations, as sex workers or in domestic service. They often receive no pay; if they do, their ‘guardian’ confiscates the money.[iv]

Traffickers typically operate independently and are commonly family members who promise poorer relatives a better life for their children or promise young women a better life for themselves, take the children or women to urban areas, and exploit them. The TIP Secretariat reported in 2015 that most victims of human trafficking are from the Southeastern parts of the country, that is Maryland, Grand Kru, River Gee, Grand Gedeh and Sinoe Counties. The Victims are often sent to Monrovia or to large plantations such as Firestone Rubber Plantation Company in Margibi County, the Weala and Salala Rubber Plantation companies etc. (Second NAP 2019). Traffickers are also often well-respected community benefactors who exploit the ‘foster care’ system common across West Africa. Orphaned children are vulnerable to exploitation, including in street vending and child sex trafficking.[v]

As a destination, Liberia has seen an influx of young women from other countries in West Africa trafficked by their parents for forced or arranged marriages. The victims are held captive in their matrimonial homes, without access to the outside world and often without any identification documents.[vi] Also, women from Tunisia and Morocco have been exposed to sex trafficking in Liberia. In 2018, reports emerged about seven women who flew from Morocco, Tunisia and Cote d'Ivoire, with hopes of earning US$1,000 monthly at a supermarket or restaurant, but ended up having their passports seized, and then demanded by their trafficker to engage into sex work. They were threatened and beaten whenever they refused.[vii] There are also documented reports of women in sex trafficking in Chinese-run hotels.[viii] Liberia is also a source. About 60 Liberian young women between the ages of 22 and 34 were allegedly trafficked into Lebanon between 2011 and 2012. The women were reportedly lured to Lebanon, believing they were going to get good-paying jobs, but ended up being housemaids and "slaves" for Lebanese landlords. 14 of the more than 60 Liberian girls were returned to the country in 2015 following protests and public outcry.[ix] Unfortunately, the women’s quest for justice came to an abrupt end when the Court ruled that state lawyers handling the case did not have license to practice as besides the case lacked direct evidence.[x] All these accounts continue to hamper anti-trafficking efforts.

Corruption plays a major role in trafficking. According to Transparency International, trafficking affects an estimated 12 million victims around the world and more than half of the victims are women and girls. Women have become victims due to their quest for better living, better incentive due to the high inequality on the job market, their limited education level, and lack of opportunities. Corruption is increasingly cited as a key reason for why trafficking continues and traffickers remain free. Corruption both facilitates trafficking and feeds the flow of people by destabilizing democracies, weakening a country’s rule of law and stalling a nation’s development. At the same time, trafficking, which can involve global or regional networks, contributes to a country’s corruption.[xi] The trade undermines development and put cash in the hands of criminals to build a bigger network.[xii] To function, trafficking relies on pay-offs to police, judges and ministers at all levels. Broader attention needs to be paid to this nexus between corruption and human trafficking. Despite advances, both issues tend to be tackled independently without recognizing their inter-linkages. Only by addressing them together will related efforts to stop trafficking be more successful. More must be done to ensure that more people, especially women and children, are not victims of trafficking.


[i] https://fernandopocrisis.weebly.com/history-of-liberia.html

[ii] Issue Paper on the International Legal Definition of Trafficking in Persons

[iii] U.S. State Department Report 2017

[iv] https://www.idlo.int/news/highlights/liberia-improving-response-trafficking-persons

[v] 2019 US State Department Report

[vi] https://www.idlo.int/fr/news/highlights/liberia-improving-response-trafficking-persons

[vii] https://www.idlo.int/fr/news/highlights/liberia-improving-response-trafficking-persons

[viii] 2019 US State Department Report

[ix] https://www.mcall.com/sdut-liberians-ask-us-for-help-with-alleged-human-2015apr28-story.html

[x] https://www.liberianobserver.com/news/trafficked-girls-nightmare-persists/

[xi] Microsoft Word - TI-Working_Paper_Human_Trafficking_28_Jun_2011_CM.doc (transparencycdn.org)

[xii] https://www.oecd.org/corruption-integrity/reports/trafficking-in-persons-and-corruption-9789264253728-en.html#:~:text=Trafficking%20in%20persons%20relies%20on%20systemic%20corruption.&text=Corrupt%20behaviour%20ranges%20from%20active,crime%20may%20be%20taking%20place.

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Tuesday, 07 December 2021 10:09

End Gender-based Violence Now!

Featured Image: CENTAL in partnership with the Embassy of Sweden conducts awareness against Gender-Based Violence in Cotton Tree Community, Gbarnga.

By: Atty. Isaac F. Nyantte, Jr.


CENTAL has an Advocacy and Legal Advice Center (ALAC), where cases bordering on corruption and other unwholesome practices are reported. One of such cases involved an instructor at a school in Monrovia, who attempted to have an affair with a female student as a pre-condition for returning her telephone that was seized by him. He had asked the student to retrieve the phone from his house. But the student did not go alone. She was accompanied by a friend. This had the teacher upset as the presence of the friend worked to abort plans of the affair. He did not give the phone to the student as promised. The student’s mother, being upset by the instructor’s action, proceeded to the campus and forcibly retrieved the phone from the school.  Sadly, the student was expelled by the School on the basis of her mother’s conduct.

This matter was brought to CENTAL’s ALAC, which then intervened to ensure that the girl returns to school. Yet, the school remain adamant. It would not even give the girl her documents to enable her enroll in another school. ALAC referred the matter to the Ministry of Education (MoE) and remained engaged with the investigation. The MoE established that the school’s action was arbitrary and not in conformity with law, instructed the school to re-instate the girl. Nonetheless, because of the toxicity associated with the school, the girl opted to enroll in another school. All necessary documents were then given to her. The school is yet to take action against the teacher. This is yet another classic example of how women are subjected to different forms of violence every day.

Gender-based violence is not only an issue widely seen in Liberia, it is common in many societies due to societal structures, crisis, or breakdown of law and order. This was widely seen during the heat of the Liberian crisis, when violence was used as a weapon of war to enslave women.

For many young girls and women, this situation which occurred during the war days, still continues today, with families concealing the information for fear that their girl child would become stigmatized by society. The UNHCR Liberia Factsheet January – December 2019, reported that Rape remains the most reported form of gender-based violence reported in Liberia.  According to the report, 46% of cases under investigation by the Liberia National Police during the period concerned children under the age of 18years. Another form of violence, sexual extortion or sextortion, which is a form of corruption, is also occurring in the Liberian society. According to CENTAL’s State of Corruption Report (SCORE) 2021, 12% of Liberians witnessed sextortion during the year preceding the survey. This is a significant number especially considering the veil of secrecy, culture of silence, and backlash of stigma that tend to be associated sextortion. In other words, the extent to which the menace is occurring is possibly greater though it might not be public for many to see.  

During the civil war, the perpetrators were mainly rebel forces.  However, after the conflict the perpetrators include not just ex-combatants, but community or family members, teachers, husbands or partners. GBV does not only lead to physical and mental trauma for the victim. It often carries longer-term social consequences for the victims themselves, such as stigmatization by their families and the community. Around 15 percent of those who were raped ended up getting pregnant. A high rate of divorce and wife abandonment often follow.

Reports from the Ministry of Gender and Development in 2008 show a similar trend: 34 percent out of over 10,000 reported protection incidents are GBV related. Domestic violence is the most prevalent of all protection incidents (26 percent out of all reported cases).

Taking a cursory look at the relationship between gender and corruption, studies show the relationship between the women in positions of power in countries around the globe, with emphasis on anti- corruption measures in place, to that of the opposite gender. Findings show that with more women in power, there were less forms of corruption. Gender as viewed from different cultures, influence the lives of men and women in different ways.

In many typical African societies, women are limited to domestic work and are regularly confronted with corruption when dealing with education, health and other public services. According to a  UNODC Report titled” The time is now” Addressing the gender dimensions of Corruption, and published in 2020,   In the health care sector, women are particularly vulnerable as they have reproductive health needs that may require regular attention. They can face corruption for things as simple as getting appointments to having to pay for treatment that they should have received for free. On a daily basis in Liberia, at different   health facilities , women have to pay unjustified fees after having to go through so much procedure, only to get medical treatment. A network dominated by men, whether in the public or private sectors, works at the exclusion of women, so that they don’t have access to some cardinal information, or political space.

On the other hand, women in leadership roles have been shown to be more motivated and invested in addressing aspects of corruption that are closer to their own reality, i.e. in areas such as public service delivery of health care and education. They may also be more interested in addressing the gendered currency of corruption, namely where women are asked for sexual favours to access services that are, in fact, sometimes even free.

In conclusion, a preventive strategy targeting men and women that strives for knowledge, attitudinal and behavioral change, by raising awareness of SGBV across all these pillars remains cardinal, especially as we commemorate 16 days of activism. This must involve a mix of advocacy and public awareness campaigns using various media at the community, county and national level.




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Friday, 03 December 2021 15:42

Liberia: Gender and Corruption

By: Sam Z. Zota, Jr.

Corruption is defined as the abuse of entrusted power for private gain. It erodes trust, and exacerbates inequality, poverty, social division and the environmental crisis.[i] It also affects different genders, leaving marginalized groups mostly impacted. Women, youths, and the poor are often victims. 

International organizations have identified four (4) intertwined areas in which women are subjected to corruption: (i) when accessing basic services, markets, and credit; (ii) while engaging in politics; (iii) in situations where women’s rights are violated (e.g., trafficking and sexual extortion); and (iv) negligence and/or mismanagement – where women report poor service delivery   due to failure of leaders to hold accountable subordinates engaging in corruption.[ii]

According to the SIDA Gender Tool Box 2015, corruption in public service delivery affects women disproportionately more than men due to the higher vulnerability of women living in poverty and being responsible for the care of children and elderly. Women in some phases of life also have greater needs for health services, especially in their reproductive years. They require access to health care before and during pregnancy and after delivery. In these situations, women may be subjected to corruption, for example in the form of bribery, by health service providers at different stages of their health care needs. The State of Corruption Report (SCORE) 2021 released by the Center for Transparency and Accountability in Liberia (CENTAL) indicates that Sixty-five (65%) of females rated medical services as the service most prone to corruption. According to the report, Corruption in the health sector intensifies inequality, with poor people and other marginalized groups being hit the hardest. The SCORE further indicated that there remains a proliferation of fake and expired drugs on the market (Liberia Revenue Authority, 2020), with long queues at hospitals, inadequacy of hospital beds, shortage of medical supplies, and below par attention from caregivers affect bribe payments as patients seek medical care. At some public facilities, in addition to the cost of services, patients shoulder operational expenses such as electricity costs (CENTAL, 2021). And in the midst of these lapses, those in charge of regulating the sector have been implicated in corruption and self-dealing.

Furthermore, corruption shrinks public revenue, often cutting spending on education, healthcare, family benefits and other social services. This seriously undermines the welfare of women and children who rely mostly on such services provided by the state (SIDA Gender Tool Box, 2015). Recently, Foreign Minister Maxwell Kemayah admitted that a “black market” at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has been responsible for hike in fees for services and failing to have collections reported to government revenue (The New Dawn, 2021). Not only is such dubious activity shrinking revenue, it is also hindering access to passport services.

The SCORE 2021 also found that Liberia’s national budget has been used as a tool to promote corruption. “State resources are being dispensed through the budget as a reward for political support. The national budget is also being used as a tool to foster what can only be called, however oxymoronically, legalized corruption”, the report stated.

Studies show that there is a broad consensus that corruption hits the poor and vulnerable groups the hardest, especially women, who represent a higher share of the world’s poor. Corruption also hinders progress towards gender equality and presents a barrier for women to gain full access to their civic, social and economic rights. In societies, like Liberia where women are traditionally the primary caretakers for their families, they are often dependent on public services like health or education. This makes them more vulnerable to certain types of bribery at the point of service delivery.[iii]

For women and girls to get access to basic services (education, health, water, sanitation, and electricity), documentation (licenses, residence and identity cards), and law enforcement, they may not only be forced to pay bribe, but are also exposed to sexual extortion. These acts often go unreported due to the stigma and shame associated with sexual crimes. This makes it difficult to monitor the nature and frequency of such corrupt practices. According to the SCORE 2021, 12 percent of Liberians indicated that they witnessed sextortion over the last 12 months. In this type of corruption, sex becomes the currency of the bribe and people are coerced into engaging in sexual acts in exchange for essential services, including health care and education.[iv]

Understanding the complex relationship between gender and corruption is therefore an essential step towards furthering women’s rights and eventually levelling the playing field between women and men.

Today, it is recognized that gender aspects influence and shape cultures across the world and feature in diverse areas of lives, ranging from religious teachings to the common bedtime story. Building upon this universality, corruption affects men and women differently across the world. In many societies as Liberia, women remain the primary caretakers of the family and are regularly confronted with corruption when providing these services. The reproductive needs of women make them particularly vulnerable in the health care sector.

But women are not only victims of corruption; they are also part of the solution. While evidence is inconclusive on whether women are less corrupt than men, greater women’s rights and participation in public life are associated with better governance and lower levels of corruption in many countries of the world. Empowering women and promoting their participation in public life is essential to address the gendered impacts of corruption and level gender power imbalances and inequalities. 

Gender inequality interferes with women’s ability to advance at all levels of politics and decision-making, thereby obstructing their access to political participation. Corruption also disrupts efforts to combat different forms of violations against women. Corruption tampers with justice systems and makes it difficult to drastically deal the violence against women. Perpetrators of violence against women continue to walk-away with impunity thereby undermining efforts to stem down on the crime.

Despite all odds, women still remain a part of the solution and have an important role to play in anti-corruption campaigns. They can contribute to improve accountability and integrity systems and build governance frameworks that are more responsive to their needs. Involving women in public life, including but not limited to anti-corruption and the design of gender responsive and gender sensitive anti-corruption policies is an important step in this direction. Indeed, we must all join hands to end all forms of violence against our women and girls now. Yes, we can; working together as ‘One People, One Nation and One Destiny!


[i] What is corruption? - Transparency.org

[ii] https://cdn.sida.se/publications/files/-gender-and-corruption.pdf

[iii] https://www.transparency.org/en/our-priorities/gender-and-corruption.

[iv] https://www.transparency.org/en/our-priorities/gender-and-corruption.

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