by Cerue Konah Garlo and Helena Gronberg
With financial support from the Folke Bernadotte Academy of Sweden through The Global Network for Women Peacebuilder (GNWP) a team of ten women set out to test the power of UNSCR 1325 in two counties/provinces (Bong and Grand Bassa) in Liberia. Using a model referred to as the Localization of UNSCR 1325 and 1820, developed by the Global Network for Women Peacebuilders (GNWP) the training targeted sixty (60) local leaders from seven districts.
The localization of UNSCR 1325 and 1820 includes a capacity building training, which in Liberia was done over a period of six (6) days, three (3) days in each location. It included 60 Customary Chiefs, Religious Leaders, Police Officers, civil society leaders, youth and community radio station managers. 26 of the 60 participants were women. The intent of the localization program was to expose local communities’ authorities to UNSCR1325 and the Liberia National Action Plan on UNSCR 1325 (LNAP) and encourage them to reflect on the possibilities of including some of the key areas of the LNAP into their own local development plans.
As Liberia is highly a patriarchic society the most difficult task the team thought they would face was discussing with traditional authorities issues that generally are seen as “women’s issues” . The training included topics such as conflict analysis, the status of peace and security for women in Liberia, introduction of UNSCRs 1325 and 1820 and the link between them, the role of Government, including local authorities and civil society in implementing the Resolution, Decentralization Policy -Linking to UNSCR 1325 and Decentralization and local Governance.
As the sessions advanced, the resolution became clearer to most of the participants, but what was astonishing was that the entire group identified sexual and reproductive health and rights, sexual and gender-based violence, lack of women’s participation in decision making at the community level, denial of women’s property rights, teen pregnancy, election violence (which leads to low number of women’ participation) as paramount concerns in their communities. The participants in †he trainings were comprised of two sets of communities –local government actors and non-state actors, such as civil society organizations, traditional leaders, and independent media. All agreed that used as an advocacy instrument UNSCR 1325 is the best tool to address the current problems in their communities.
In order to concretize their work, each local community developed a Local Action Plan to address their specific issues related to women peace and security. In addition to the action plans, participants made individual and group commitments; some of the commitments were as simple as informing their communities about UNSCR 1325 and its content. For example, one of the communities implemented their group’s commitment by holding an evening talk show on one of the community radio stations during which they highlighted the training and talked about the roles of state actors and non state actors in the implementation of UNSCR 1325. They stressed the need for ownership of the action plans and to make sure the plans are implemented.
All of the participants were people with authority at the community and local government level. However, due to the fact that all decisions concerning development (e.g. budget allocations, county development plans, health etc.) emulate from Monrovia – the seat of the government – the decision making power of the local authorities is limited. The trainings were timely however, as Liberia, in an effort to decentralize the government, has drafted a Local Government Act (LGA). According to the Act, the local government will have a diverse structure comprised of the Local County Council (12 elected persons) and County Administration (Superintendent, County Administrative Officer, Finance Officer, Development Officer and Department Heads). This structure – if implemented – will provide the opportunity for local government workers and community members to jointly manage their own affairs and implement the plans of the county.
At the close of the training in Grand Bassa, the Superintendent of the country, Hon. Etweda Cooper ensured her administration’s backing: “I will monitor each one of you and make sure that these plans are implemented to the fullest. I am one of the brains behind the development of the Liberia National Action Plan and we must make sure it is owned by the communities and local officials of government,” she said.
As part of her commitment, the Superintendent promised to place on the agenda of the monthly County Meeting (comprise of UN Agencies, Civil Society Organizations, INGO and local authorities) the issues of the development of the action plans of UNSCR1325 and 1820 at the local government level, and to lobby for funding for the implementation of the plans. She encouraged the local authorities to take ownership of the process. Similarly, a meeting with the Superintendents of the fifteen (15) sub political divisions in the country will serve as a supportive and driving force for the Localization of UNSCR 1325 and 1820.
The bottom-up approach of the Localization of UNSCR 1325 and 1820 program has proved to bring communities together. Stakeholders that normally would not sit at the same table come together to discuss challenges in their communities and strategize to bring about change.
GNWP and its members in Liberia thank the Folke Bernadotte Academy of Sweden and Cordaid for supporting this program in Liberia.