Transforming Communities: Montserrado SGBV Secretariat's Fight Against Gender-Based Violence
Shaping a Safer Tomorrow: Samuel Asa Cheneken's Battle Against Gender-Based Violence Unveils Triumphs and Transformation in Montserrado County, Liberia.
In Montserrado County, in northwestern Liberia, Samuel Asa Cheneken, Chairperson of the Montserrado sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) Secretariat, reflects on the ongoing transformative work to prevent violence against women and girls in the largest county of Liberia. Mr. Cheneken's leadership has been instrumental in driving change, creating awareness, and providing support to survivors of SGBV.
When the European Union and United Nations Spotlight Initiative project commenced in Liberia, Mr. Cheneken and the Secretariat took on the crucial role of spreading SGBV awareness and preventive messages. The initiative aimed to concurrently educate the community and challenge cultural norms that often oppressed survivors. Montserrado, being the largest county with diverse cultural practices, faced the daunting challenge of combating rampant SGBV and harmful cultural practices prevalent in rural areas.
The Secretariat organized workshops with community structures of women, youths and elders to impart knowledge and amplify the voices of those who could not speak out. "Our biggest function was to continue awareness and preventive messages that would help our mothers, sisters, daughters and wives be protected from violence,” says Cheneken, emphasizing the significance of community engagement.
The community structures became the frontline in reporting cases and enhancing awareness. Trained to manage cases, these structures played a crucial role in bridging the gap between the community and the Secretariat.
Over the years, the Secretariat encouraged survivors and their families to speak out against perpetrators, breaking the cultural tendency of shame that often shrouded these crimes.
The cultural stigma associated with reporting SGBV cases often hindered victims from seeking justice. Recognizing the financial and logistical challenges faced by victims and their families, the Secretariat stepped in to assist with transportation to police stations, medical care, and even collaborated with law enforcement to ensure the alleged perpetrators were brought to justice. "Sometimes they don't have money, even if they want to go to the police station. The Secretariat took the initiative to assist the police in arresting alleged perpetrators and ensuring victims receive necessary medical attention," explain Mr. Cheneken.
Impactful Cases and Achievements
Highlighting the impact of the Montserrado County SGBV Secretariat’s work, Mr. Cheneken shares an example of intercepting a trafficked girl from Sierra Leone: "We intercepted that and were able to send her back to her people in Sierra Leone." Such interventions exemplify the dedication of the Secretariat in safeguarding the vulnerable.
The achievements extend beyond individual cases. Through continuous awareness and workshops, communities have become vigilant watchdogs against SGBV. Mr. Cheneken proudly observes the positive shift: "In Todee, where men used to beat their wives, the rate of abuse has minimized. Women have become more aware of their rights and started reporting cases. The program empowered women to know their rights."
The awareness has helped to establish cordial relationships within the community. The initiative fostered an environment where community leaders and members work together, reporting potential dangers and ensuring a swift response from law enforcement or the Secretariat. Today, young girls can walk through communities without fear of harassment, signaling a significant shift in the culture and mindsets of the people.
Mr. Cheneken passionately advocates for investing in the prevention of violence against women and girls, recognizing the profound consequences of SGBV: "There is a need to recognize the rights of these people who will produce the next generation. Women have equal rights, so it is important to protect them from all forms of violence."
He underscores the urgency of financial empowerment for women, stating, "If women have financial strength, they can't just succumb to any men because they are able to provide for themselves and fend for their children." Mr. Cheneken expressed gratitude to donors, commending their investments and stressing the importance of empowering women: "The main objective of the program is to eliminate all forms of violence. Let’s empower vulnerable women and girls."
As Liberia commemorates the 16 Days of Activism against gender-based violence, Mr. Cheneken's message resonates with urgency: "Let us invest our time. Let’s go to all areas and raise awareness about preventing violence against women and girls." The call to action is clear – invest in awareness, empowerment, and a violence-free future for Liberia.