Rebuilding of Liberia Must Involve Full Participation of Women
UNIFEM, Press Release, 10 May 2004
Speaking today at the National Women's Conference on Peace and Socio-Economic Recovery in Liberia, Noeleen Heyzer, Executive Director of the UN Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) emphasized the centrality of women's participation and leadership in all phases of the country's recovery, including processes of disarmament, demobilization, and rehabilitation. She described the conference as a celebration of the courage of Liberia's women, of their resilience and capacity for leadership amidst the trauma and devastation of conflict over the past decade. "The women of Liberia know the cost of conflict, of failed states and ruined economies ... Despite these experiences they have taken responsibility for sustaining their families and communities ... This conference is a statement by the women of this country of their right to be partners in charting Liberia's transition process," she said.
Ms Heyzer spoke of unique opportunities present in the immediate post-conflict phase, particularly in the creation of new institutions through a participatory process that ensures the rights and involvement of both women and men. She listed four priorities that should be acted on to institutionalize mechanisms of inclusion, and facilitate a participatory environment for women.
The first was the provision of security. Reform of the security sector should include law enforcement mechanisms that address women's special security needs during all phases of the peace and reconstruction process. Community-based policing and police stations for women are alternative security models to explore. The second priority was the re-establishment of the rule of law, and the promotion of gender justice. An essential starting point here would be to ensure that gender perspectives are an intrinsic part of new constitutional, legislative, and judicial frameworks. "We also need to pay attention to voters' education and preparation for electoral participation, drawing from experiences in Rwanda, Burundi, East Timor, Afghanistan and other post-conflict countries," she added.
A third area of focus was governance. Ms Heyzer pointed to the inclusion of three women in the National Transitional Government and four women in the National Transitional Assembly as a good sign, but urged even greater support for involving women as leaders in national institutions. The fourth priority was ensuring economic security for women, by securing their access to basic services and resources, and including their needs in budget allocations for reconstruction and development.
In closing, Ms Heyzer called on multi-lateral and donor agencies operating in Liberia and neighbouring countries to promote recruitment of Liberian women at higher levels — "If the international community takes Liberian women seriously in their recruitment policies, so too will the local community."