From 1999 to 2003 the Liberian civil war persistently disrupted the lives of Liberian women, forcing many to seek refuge in neighbouring West African countries. Not willing to see their country disintegrate, Liberian women took action to catalyse an end to the war, organising within Liberia, but and also as refugee women in Ghana around the peace talks happening in Accra. Liberian women also organised to address their situation as refugees, and build leadership and resources to sustain their displaced communities.
A group of Liberian women refugees living in Accra, Ghana’s capital city, came together to form the New Liberian Women’s Organisation (NLWO) to help the women to develop new skills, improve their livelihoods and forge new bonds in their host country. The African Women’s Development Fund (AWDF) began to support NLWO in 2005 when the organisation was still based in Accra, and have accompanied the group with funding support totalling over USD 60,000 to date. The initial grants went towards strengthening the institutional capacity and leadership development of young refugee women. Further grants have resulted in the construction of a community center, livelihood and leadership workshops, and the provision of critical emergency supplies, with housands of lives changed for the better. .
Members of the New Liberian Women’s Organisation returned to Liberia in 2007 to continue their work. Over a decade later they remain active in their communities. With continued support from AWDF, NLWO has gone on to impact their communities in powerful ways. They have provided training sessions on gender equality and income generation for women who returned to a Liberia under new rules and had to learn how to survive and prosper once more. They have also created awareness on the spread of STDs and HIV. When the Ebola virus struck in 2014, NLWO women mobilised in the same way that they always had, to deepen education on the virus, in community spaces like schools and marketplaces. They also distributed safety and sanitary items and led an awareness campaign in the country’s rural areas, including the heavily affected Montserrado County. As a follow up to these activities, AWDF has awarded NLWO a grant of USD 15,000 to provide Ebola survivors with income generating opportunities and leadership and mentorship skills training. The project will also carry out educational activities on issues of women’s rights to economic security.
The New Liberian Women’s Organisation is one example of how women activists continually create and support initiatives that have tangible impact on their communities. It is important to recognise the meaningful contributions and valuable impact that women have made, historically, in Liberia and other conflict countries.
We know from experience that refugee women need both protection and respect for their rights as granted by international law. Unfortunately, international communities have been slow and inconsistent at fulfilling necessary human rights mandates to protect their citizens. We have learnt also that refugee women need resources to regain autonomy and to organise around response, recovery and rebuilding their lives, communities and societies. Not just shelter, food and health interventions, but financial support and other resources are necessary to help rebuild communities and lead emergency care responses to long term recovery, development and sustainability. Let’s make sure that the work of refugee women is properly recognised, facilitated, and amplified.