“Remain Resilient and Uncompromising About Human Rights Issues”

.….Cllr Yvette Chesson Gibson Admonishes…

By: Lisa T. Diasay

Liberia: The Lingering question surrounding the protection of women who defend rights in Liberia has finally been answered with the Launch of a network to protect, support amplify their voices.

At a well attended program in Congo Town, Women championing the rights of other women and marginalized groups gathered to officially launch the organization. The group’s pick for a launcher in person of the Director of Angie Brooks International Center, Cllr Yvette Chesson Gibson spotlighted the role senior women rights defenders have played in the country before and after the war.

Cllr. Chesson-Gibson, initiator of the Women Situation Room, expressed excitement for the courage women in the room had to stand up and continuously champion the rights of others.

Before officially launching the Women Human Rights Defenders Network of Liberia, Cllr. Chesson-Gibson recalled the strides made by Liberian women rights defenders over the years in maintaining the peace in Liberia and the subregion.

She challenged women rights defenders to remain uncompromising and resilient in the fight against the abuses of women, girls and marginalized populations in the country. “Liberia is not an easy place to be a human rights defender, whether on FGM, rape or on any awareness on sexual orientation you may want to get involved with, you have to be strong, courageous, and be ready to take on the challenge”.

She then pledged her commitment to working with WHRDL in pushing the agenda and mission of the institution to ensure women’s safety and protection in Liberia. 

As part of the launching program, three rights defenders mounted the panel to share their experiences and preferred ways to counter challenges confronting the work of women human rights defenders in Liberia.

Cllr. Margaret Nigba of Her Voice Liberia, Aisha Kamara of the Liberia Feminist Forum and Binta Fatumata Sall of Sisters for Sisters indicated separately that though threats may arise as a result of defending rights, it is important to note that defenders must never compromise the rights of others. They used the occasion to inspire and challenge women rights defenders to ensure more gains in the area advocacy.

During launch several partners including human rights institutions pledged their support to the network for greater impacts through collective work. 

“We might not be the one to give you the million dollars, but if you have a trip, you want to be recognized regionally, if you are not able to meet the Legislature to lobby, we are ready to give you the full support and you are going to be one of our strategic partners; and please, I am a member of WHRDL now”, Elizabeth Johnson, Action Aid Executive Director.

Also, Madam Gorma Karluwah of UN Women Liberia applauded the panelists for their tremendous works exhibited in the fight for Justice for women, while at the same time disclosing to pick WHRDL’s Vice Chairperson Fatumata Binta Sall as Champion of her institution’s upcoming 16 days of activism on FGM awareness and early childhood marriage in Liberia. 

For her part, Cllr. Ruth Jappah, Commissioner of the Law Reform Commission of Liberia urged women rights defenders to foster collaboration by building networks with people to ensure access to achieving their missions.

“So, I say this to say that you must know the right people who are in positions and able to give your constituents immediate relief; instead of waiting to get all these papers to get the Supreme Court, this is what we need now. We want to help a woman and now; we would like to collaborate with you now and now” Cllr. Jappah asserted. 

Also speaking was a Liberian War Crimes Campaigner, Adama Dempster who urged the WHRDL to work with male human rights defenders to work collectively. Mr. Dempster also promised to work with WHRDL and fascinate one or two representatives to go to the Gambia to join other international human rights Defenders on African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights program to be held in November 2022 to make the case of women and girls in Liberia. 

For his part, Country Representative of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), Uchenna Emelonye assured his office’s earnest commitment and partnership to supporting women’s rights defenders for the protection of women and girls and other human rights activists in the country.  “My office will work with the Government to ensure the establishment of additional framework documents that will protect human rights advocates mainly women rights defenders. We would like to collaborate with you all to further strengthen human rights issues because there is a stronger need to have more women rights defenders.

The Launch of the organization encompasses a half day refresher training for members of the network. With support from UN Peacebuilding Fund, Kivinna-Till-Kivinna and the Community Healthcare Initiative (CHI), the training highlighted Topics on how to monitor, document, and report on abuses and violations of Women Human Rights Defenders. 

Giving the overview of the training, the chairperson of WHRDL Atty. Tonieh A. Talery Wiles stressed the need to create consistent awareness on the rights of women and girls in order to minimize the threats and challenges that women’s rights defenders face in their advocacies.

Atty Wiles also emphasized the need for women rights defenders to properly manage sensitive reporting and the monitoring of documented issues affecting women, girls and minority groups.

“The main purpose of the WHRDL is to defend, protect, and provide security and space for women who fight for human rights. But, in order for women to be relevant and for their voices to be heard, women’s rights defenders need to properly manage and be aware of their rights, responsibilities, and even the risks involved when they are advocating for those who are victims of these threats”, Atty Wiles noted. 

She pointed out that work around women’s human rights has been increasingly politicized, with women’s human rights defenders being accused of engaging in opposition politics and ‘false flag’ events.

“Some highly visible examples include the August 2019 protest, which focused heavily on violence against women in elections (VAWIE), and the “3 Days” anti-rape protest in August 2020. In addition, WHRDL works with marginalized and excluded populations, and tries to end female genital mutilation (FGM). 

Other taboo issues carry out their work with significant risk to their security and safety. WHRDL also balances multiple personal and professional roles while dealing with social and gender justice issues, so their mental and emotional well-being is also at risk. This is perhaps so when they work with violence survivors and have their own experiences with violence, injustice, and trauma”, she asserted.

“2022 has been a year like no other, with the continued rise of authoritarianism, police brutality against women, and the rollback of human rights, particularly women’s rights. There have been continued attempts to silence women human rights defenders worldwide. However, the solidarity between human rights movements worldwide in response to these crises has never been so strong. Against this background, the Liberia Women Human Rights Defenders Network Monrovia Chapter is officially launched today to help reduce some of these challenges that women and girls face within our community”, she stated. 

Other topics discussed during the training include: Who is a woman human rights defender and Role & responsibilities among others. 

Women Rights Defenders named outlined issues of language barriers to effectively disseminate their ideas, stigmatization and intimidation by their male counterparts in politics, the lack of funding to be able to empower them in the political arena, the lack of political will by stakeholders and government officials to craft policies that will allow women to fully participate in politics, and community members and leaders not willing to expose information on critical issues like female genital mutilation (FGM) and rape.  

To mitigate those challenges, they recommended the crafting of legal frameworks that will empower women rights defenders to support the workspace, more capacity-building, and flexible funding opportunities to defenders to adequately carry out their work.

The WHRDL was founded in 2018 by a group of potential women who saw gaps in women’s human rights advocacies and the need to raise maximum awareness to protect (women) human rights issues in Liberia. The group comprises women who champion the rights of women girls and marginalized and or minority groups. It is intended to ensure the physical safety and security, provide emotional and psychosocial support of all Women Human Rights Defenders in Liberia.

As Liberia strives to meet equal-gender representation in parliament, national decision-making and political participation, women’s groups in the country are increasing their efforts on women’s rights awareness and  their political engagement in order to see an equal democratic and political participatory society. 

One of the women’s groups that is actively and hugely engaging and educating women and girls to fully participate in Liberian politics while knowing their rights and responsibilities is the Women Human Rights Defenders Network of Liberia (WHRDL).  

The training was followed by the official launch of the Women Human Rights Defenders Network of Liberia (WHRDL) in Monrovia with funding from the Kvinna till Kvinna (KTK) Foundation.

It is the first of its kind to have such a group launched to protect women’s human rights defenders in Liberia.

Serving as the Chief Launcher of WHRDL, the Director of Angie Brooks International Center, Cllr. Yvette Chesson-Gibson, urged women’s rights defenders in Liberia to be determined, courageous, and resilient in the fight against the abuses of women and girls in the country. 

“Liberia is not an essay place to be a human rights defender, whether on FGM, rape or on any awareness on sexual orientation you may want to get involved into, you have to be strong, courageous, and be ready to take on the challenge”, Cllr. Chesson Gibson admonished women human rights defenders at WHRDL’s launching ceremony in Monrovia. 

She then pledged her commitment to working with WHRDL in pushing the agenda and mission of the institution to ensure women’s safety and protection in Liberia. 

Meanwhile, giving his partnering speech, the

The roles and responsibilities, national and international basic human rights instruments (legal instruments), and the threats and challenges affecting women and girls in Liberia were some of the key topics discussed during the one-day interactive workshop by both participants and presenters. 

The training and launching ceremony which brought together several women’s rights defenders from four (4) political sub-divisions of Liberia including Montserrado, Gbarpolu, Grand Cape Mount, and Bomi Counties was held on the theme: “Support, Protect and Amplify the Voices of Women.”  

Still at the training and launching program of the Women Human Rights Defenders Network of Liberia, WHRDL’s partners include Madam Elizabeth Kolawole – Executive Director at ActionAid Liberia, Ruth Jappah of Women’s Land Rights Specialist Law Reform Commission of Liberia, a Liberian War Crimes Campaigner – Adama Dempster and others pledged their full commitments and supports towards women rights defenders’ safety and protection through WHRDL.

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