Welcome! This blog documents my experience as a Nancy Germeshausen Klavans Cultural Bridge Fellow with the Liberian Ministry of Gender and Development during my studies at the Harvard Kennedy School.

The views expressed are solely my own and are written to share experiences, introduce issues, and initiate conversation. Thank you for reading!

Friday, June 15, 2007

Video clip!!!!! (and what I'm working on in the Ministry)

I've added the International Rescue Committee's Mother's Day Video Clip to the blog. It showcases men and women's action groups that are using drama and song to promote communities free of sexual exploitation and gender-based violence. It gives a great example of the widespread problem of sexual exploitation and a glimpse into Liberia's people and language. I wish that the sub-titles for Liberia's "Simple English" came in real life, but unfortunately they don't. It’s getting easier for me to understand people, but it is definitely a challenge sometimes!

I figure something as exciting and visual as a video is a good opportunity to talk about something not-so-visually-stimulating like my exact assignment in the Ministry. The Ministry of Gender has a Gender-Based Violence Secretariat. This Secretariat leads the nation's Gender-Based Violence (GBV) Task Force, made up of representatives from other ministries, the police force, lots of ngos, and health facilities. Together, the task force is working to implement a 5 year National Plan to Prevent and Manage Gender-Based Violence. International Rescue Committee, working with the action groups in the video, is a strong voice in the mission, particularly when it comes to spreading the message to communities and supporting healthy life styles.

Much of my work this summer will center around this task force. First, I am designing the system that will be used for monitoring and evaluating the national Plan of Action. This will include analyzing monthly reports from all those in the country who encounter survivors of violence (For example, the police and the health ministry are now able to transmit monthly reports to our office about their GBV cases.) A team from the Secretariat will head out to four counties next week to do the baseline assessment of indicators such as judges', prosecutors', and police's knowledge of the laws and willingness to respond to GBV cases. The idea is that over the course of the next five years, there should be dramatic improvements in the management of GBV cases. If all goes well, the system and indicators we set up will show that it either happens or doesn’t. Secondly, I will be developing a one-year plan of action for the Ministry, based off of the five-year objectives, so that they can prioritize projects and have a clear focus for their GBV strategy in the next year.

So, as of now, my exciting desk job isn't providing much for stimulating video footage, but check out the IDC clip for a feel into the true spirit of what many, myself included, are trying to accomplish in Liberia!



Amanda said...

Sounds like the ministry sees gender based violence as a serious and immediate issue. I am wondering, have you had the opportunity to interact with any of the community members? If so, what have their reactions been to this movement (both men and women). Also, how has your white skin and American accent influenced their responses?
Keep up the amazing work.

G-Ma said...

My B Day Buddy,

I'm so fasinated by your accounts from Liberia. (glad for the map showing the exact location)
I am nearly done with A Long Way Gone so I can only Imagine the ruination of the country.
Being another "strong woman" I admire your dedication to helping others become the same!
I will keep GBV Task force, your fellow 6 students and of course you in my prayers.
Love, G-Ma

mom said...

Take time to see--your sight will lead to insight.Thankyou for being eyes for me and as always pushing me to grow.Your blog is letting me see a part of the world I was blind to.I humbly admit that I don't know if this is from choice,or just that there had been no light shed on this issue for me.May I grow in insight as I use your eyes to see. You are loved much. mOM

Janelle said...

Hi Emily,
I learned of your site from your cousin (I am a student at Augsburg)and I am very interested in your work, as I have an NGO in Liberia.
Here might be an article of interest published last week in the Minneapolis Star Tribune newspaper.
You and your team will be in our prayers as well.

Cristina said...

Hey Em!

It sounds very interesting up to now!

How important is the issue in Liberia? Do you think the Ministry's work is been taken seriously by the rest of the government (population)? What is the budget for this Ministry in comparison to the others?
In Colombia we used as an indicator of "importance of the Ministry" the place in which the meetings taked place (i.e if ministry of agriculture had a meeting with the ministry of finance and they met at the ministry of finance then the latter is more important than the former).

Anne said...

Probably won't be able to download video on the connection I have from Nepal, but I am so glad that Liberia has you to do this work - I'm looking forward to hearing how it goes.

Also, I am really glad to hear that the men you are working with are quite concerned about gender-based violence and women.

Here in Nepal, I get the sense that even some of our men partners have a long way to go in thinking about women as equals. At a meeting today with one of CWAP's partners, when we agreed to bring into the partnership a third organization, with women, they (all men) made a joke about women's skill in undermining partners.

Love the pics - say hi to the Harvard team in Liberia for me!

Emily Stanger said...

Wow – leave it to the social worker to have such great questions! I’ll give you my best shot at answers right now and maybe I’ll have some new ideas on them as time goes by.

My interactions with community members have been incredibly limited. Obviously, the focus of the gender ministry doesn’t necessarily reflect the focus of everyone in the country. However, there is a strong movement among women’s groups, women’s lawyers, and the international non-profits to bring attention to the issue of gender based violence.

Public awareness in Liberia happens through small billboards on the side of the road, and we drive by four gender-based-violence billboards on our way to work which say things like “Real men don’t rape” with a nice little drawing of a small man in a diaper on top of a woman with a huge X over it (The illiteracy rate is 80% for women and 50% for men, so the visuals are key). I would say that people from the community are greatly concerned about the high prevalence of rape and are eager for a greater police presence and higher level of security.

The issue of domestic violence and gender based violence stemming from harmful traditional practices like female genital mutilation (FGM) and early marriage (girls being forced into marriage before they are 18) are much more controversial. In fact, the issue of rape within marriage had to be removed from the 2005 rape bill before it was passed (this bill finally made “rape” as we understand it in the U.S. illegal and places harsher sentences on perpetrators). Then, there’s the story of how traditional leaders more-or-less threatened the Gender for bringing up the issue of FGM and early marriage in a meeting at the Ministry of the Interior. So, dealing with these deeply cultural practices is definitely much more sensitive, among both men and women.

As a whole, Liberia’s government is paying more attention to this issue than most governments probably would – then and again, the severity of the violence against women here is extreme and there is still infinite ground that needs to be covered to raise awareness, establish a safe society, and inform women of their rights.

Moving along…

To the “strong woman” who continues to inspire me, G-ma:
I often think of the images from A Long Way Gone as I see boys in the streets. It’s hard to believe that it is real. Thanks for your love and prayers - they get me through. I'm sending some back your way as well. Miss you bunches – Em

Mom, what on earth would I do without your love, support and advice?! After all you've taught me in life, I don't think I'll ever be able to pass along enough to compare. (Good thing sharing experiences and eyes doesn't work on credit/debtor system!)
On the drive home today I had this sudden realization that I was starting to really enjoy the sites on our 45-minute commute. With more familiarity, I am able to appreciate some of the little nuances and the life behind the activity. Previously, it seemed almost like one, big, strange mess outside the van window. I’ll keep my eyes open, soak in everything I can, and wait patiently for that insight to come… I'll pass along what I can. love, Em

Thanks for pointing out the article. What a tragic story - people spend their lives running from violence and somehow that same violence seems to take over who they are. Is there a large Liberian community in Minneapolis?
It’s wonderful that you have a nonprofit here – what are you working on?

As a government employee, I’m sure you can guess that the Ministry of Gender doesn’t have loads of pull around here. Although I like your ranking system, for Liberia, I would judge “importance of the ministry” based on how many hours they have of electricity a day. Given the Ministry of Gender turns the electricity on after everyone arrives (around 9) and shuts it off at 5:30/6, that places them lower on the command than say Health, who once in a while gets the generator turned on for a Saturday. The budget is quite small (honestly everyone’s budget is small) but they do receive support from UNFPA and UNIFEM. To give them some credit, I think most people would place them above the Ministry of Sports and Youth ;)

We are going to the Cabinet retreat in the next week and I am interested to watch the dynamics and how the Cabinet members react to the Minister of Gender. I’ll let you know.

My verdict is still out on the overall value of having a specific Ministry of Gender (as opposed to a division for gender in each ministry) and how much importance it should be given. In some ways I feel the “gender office” may be better suited as a regulatory institution outside of the government with access to each ministry. Then and again, considering the huge issues Liberia has and the great need for coordination and advocacy around women’s concerns, their work within the government seems necessary. Yue Man mentioned last night that if the situation for women continues as it is (lack of knowledge, lack of rights, high rates of exploitation), within ten years Liberia could be another South Africa plagued with HIV. It is pretty obvious to all of us here that the gender issue cannot be brushed aside for Liberia. Unfortunately that doesn’t translate directly into loads of political clout for the Ministry of Gender.

I’ll keep reporting on this topic – I think my opinions will change quite a bit over the course of the summer.

What do you think? Would Colombia ever have a Ministry of Gender? Would other government offices take it seriously?

Anne, So great to hear the update from Nepal. I think there is quite a ways to go in Liberia as well, but hopefully the small steps in the right direction will motivate an entire movement forward! Be well and I'll keep checking in on your blog for more updates!