PREVENTING AND RESPONDING TO GENDER-BASED VIOLENCE IN LIBERIA
Engaging Faith-Based Organizations to Prevent Violence Against Women & Girls and Support Survivors
Episcopal Relief & Development and the humanitarian arm of the Episcopal Church of Liberia (ECL-RD) launched a program in 2015 to mobilize faith networks to end gender-based violence (GBV). The program is funded in part by a three-year, $680,000 grant from the UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women, and implemented in collaboration with the Liberian Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection. The aim of the program is to prevent violence against women and girls and increase survivors’ access to services.
In 2016, the program expanded its activities in partnership with Islamic Relief USA. The support from IRUSA increases training for faith leaders and other key stakeholders, including youth groups, to use the Faith Leader GBV Prevention and Response Toolkit and promote positive attitudes and behaviors in their institutions and communities.
GBV is pervasive throughout Liberia, and its increased prevalence can be attributed in part to moral and institutional breakdown during the country’s devastating 14-year civil wars. During the wars, faith leaders through the Inter-Religious Council of Liberia (IRCL) and the Liberia Council of Churches served as mediating bodies between the warring factions. Christian and Muslim leaders were, and to this day are, seen as a voice for peace and reason. Currently, an eight-member Technical Working Group from the IRCL advises on this project, has received training to train others been trained as trainers, and participates in the monitoring and evaluation of the work.
Episcopal Relief & Development and ECL-RD have joined with the Liberian government in a collaborative effort to work through faith leaders to more effectively reach communities with positive messages about GBV prevention. This project will share Ministry knowledge and resources through local faith networks, enabling local religious leaders to become agents of change within their own communities. This is particularly important in the country's post-conflict and post-Ebola context, as women and girls experience heightened vulnerability during times of crisis, and their needs must be taken into account for lasting and holistic recovery.
Active in six districts in Grand Cape Mount and River Cess counties, the GBV program in Liberia strengthens the knowledge, skills and opportunities for collaboration of agents of change and influence in Liberia; namely pastors, imams, lay leaders, village elders, chiefs and youth group leaders.
These leaders participate in intensive workshops focused on topics including:
- effective social and behavior change communication
- the specific causes and effects of GBV
- psycho-social or pastoral response and referrals for high-risk women and girls and survivors of GBV
- use of scripture to prevent violence against women and girls
The program will equip clergy and lay leaders with information about GBV and prevention strategies so that they can use their positions of influence to change attitudes and existing social norms. Clergy engage with couples, families, youth, men and women leaders in a variety of ways during their lives, and guide knowledge, attitude and behavior change quite closely. Through sermons, religious teachings, marriage preparation, marriage counseling, family counseling, retreats, and revivals, clergy influence the cultural and behavioral norms prevalent in a community. Lay leaders of women’s, men’s and youth groups will also be trained as agents of change and then facilitate learning-action dialogues with members. Trained leaders will use innovative communication strategies including regular talk radio shows popular in Liberia to convey messages about positive masculinity and gender equality that resonate with their group members and peers. Newly formed county-level coalitions for faith leaders and other stakeholders will ensure local ownership and leadership of GBV activities, as well as sharing of lessons learned and mutual support for growth into new communities. Specialized youth leader training facilitates discussions on GBV through developing creative community theater and other events.
The end goals of the program are to:
- transform local norms that condone harmful beliefs and practices
- build an active coalition of advocates for women’s and girls’ right to live free from violence
- create safe havens in houses of faith for survivors of violence to seek counsel and support
These goals require grassroots-based, long-term efforts, which are possible through engaging faith, community and youth leaders. These leaders are using their positions in the community to effect lasting change, and this program provides them the tools to do so.