The effects of the conflict which raged in Liberia between 1999 and 2004 are still being felt, especially by young women.
Daughters of war
Many girls were orphaned during the war, and some have suffered rape resulting in early pregnancy. In Bomi County, an estimated 75% of women with children are single mothers. Many men, still traumatised by the war and affected by the resulting unemployment problems, no longer want to take responsibility for children.
With no other incomes, large numbers of girls and women are selling their bodies to feed and support their children. They make around 75 Liberian dollars (€0.75) per customer.
Carmen*, 20, says: “When I don’t go onto the street, I can’t eat. My 2 children are at home, they can’t go to school. When I go onto the street and don’t get anything, we sleep without food.”
Blessing*, 27, also a sex worker, adds: “You will find 12-year-olds in the street. A girl will be 14 or 15 and she’s got 2 kids by different fathers.”
Lack of education puts women at risk
Betty Greaves, Child Protection Officer at Plan International Liberia, says the problem is partly due to high illiteracy in Liberia. This existing problem was made worse by a generation of children missing out on school during the civil war.
I joined the Girl Power Project and I left the street
In 2012, only 37% of females in Liberia aged 15-24 were literate according to UNESCO figures**.
“Most of the women are not educated,” says Greaves. “They don’t read and write so men take advantage of them, have children by them and go on their way.”
New skills lead to a better future
Vocational training is key to transforming these women’s lives and helping them make sure their children do not miss out on school.
Through the Girl Power Project, run with our partners in the Child Rights Alliance, we offer vocational training to girls and women aged 14-30. Skills taught include hairdressing, baking, soap making, beauty care and tailoring.
Temba*, 29, participated in the project, learnt to make soap and now runs her own stall. She no longer does sex work.
She says: “I joined the Girl Power Project and I left the street. It made me feel good, made me feel like a woman. Things I never did on my own, I now do for myself.
“I’m happy because the Girl Power Project made me feel very big. People saw me and said, ‘Oh you’ve changed. The way you were looking before, you’re no longer like that.’”
Saving money together
The project also offers small loans so women can create groups to save money.
Join the movement for girls' rights Project coordinator Beatrice Newland says vocational training and a means for the women to save money will help them to change their lives.
“The long-term solution is to empower these women. In addition to providing business start-up kits like materials for those who did tailoring, we’ll help them save the money needed to start businesses and sustain their families.”
*Names have been changed to protect identities
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