ICAN’s Senior Program Officer, Stacey Schamber, and WASL member and Executive Director of WEDOL, Rosaline Cassell, spoke about the far-reaching impacts of the She Builds Peace campaign in Liberia.
In Liberia, “village savings and loan associations” (VSLA) are becoming increasingly popular among women. VSLAs are small groups who collectively save their money together in a safe space. By paying dues into this shared fund, women support one another through hard times and can take out loans from the collective to cover costs such as school fees or to set up small businesses or purchase land, for example.
The Women Education and Development Organization of Liberia (WEDOL), led by Women’s Alliance for Security Leadership (WASL) member, Roseline Cassell, established a VSLA for women peacebuilders across Margibi County, Liberia. The ten members of the association are focal points brought together through the launch of the She Builds Peace campaign in Liberia. She Builds Peace is a collaborative campaign to ensure that women peacebuilders are safe and protected, that governments fulfill their obligations to include them in peace and security decision making, and that women peacebuilders are appreciated and resourced to continue their critical work.
When initiating the campaign, Roseline Cassell knew that building support and fostering local ownership would require significant awareness raising across Margibi County. She initiated personal outreach to key stakeholders in the region and mobilized her team of volunteers to conduct door-to-door sensitization to introduce the campaign. On the day of the official launch, in December, 2021 she secured a public address (PA) system which her organization, WEDOL, used while walking through the streets and marketplace in Kakata inviting others to join them. Wearing campaign t-shirts and declaring “I am a woman peacebuilder,” the staff sang songs and gave merchandise to others who joined their parade. The parade culminated in a panel discussion where many stakeholders pledged to support women peacebuilders.
Among the 300-400 participants were women peacebuilders, youth groups, heads of community-based organizations, a cultural dance group and the Liberian national police. The police were a critical stakeholder to have on site and have become increasingly responsive to the campaign and recognition of women peacebuilders, as they work in partnership with WEDOL to mitigate sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV). Five police members joined the launch along with four local authorities including the District Commissioner, and the Kakata City Mayor. In addition, local chiefs, journalists, religious leaders, law makers, and Madam Kolanah Sando – a representative of the US Embassy, attended the official launch.
This public recognition was critical to enable WEDOL to gain institutional support for their work throughout the county. It opened up dialogue around the specific ways in which interested partners can provide financial support or security and protection for women peacebuilders. For instance, since the campaign’s launch the city mayor’s office has been an ally in advocating for the rights of women peacebuilders and understanding the risks they face. Local community women, especially young women, joined the campaign and felt increased support and visibility, some have since spoken on radio programs about sensitive issues such as SGBV.
Formalizing the Role of Women Peacebuilders
The women peacebuilders who formed the VSLA on the back of the She Builds Peace launch, come together regularly to discuss community concerns and develop advocacy plans. They also oversee any campaign-related work and peacebuilding activities in their communities. Their greatest impact has been their ability to resolve community level conflicts. People started reaching out to them regarding local complaints, family conflicts, or cases of gender-based violence which have traditionally been the responsibility of local chiefs and courts. However, traditional routes often require monetary payment for services and sometimes follow a lengthy process of case registration, making arrests, and reaching decisions. Women peacebuilders have assumed the responsibility of first responders; they understand the nature of these conflicts and who is involved and are thereby well positioned to mediate them.
The women peacebuilders work closely with local chiefs who retain an important role in communities, and particularly with complex cases still move within traditional mechanisms. WEDOL invited ten local chiefs to peacebuilding trainings, so they could better understand the role women peacebuilders can play as community first responders, and also the risks they face. Women peacebuilders now often appear on the radio to discuss common community conflicts and have received more widespread recognition for their role in resolving them.
This year WEDOL and the focal points will launch the campaign in communities across Bong County. They’re engaging with diverse stakeholders to increase support and recognition, and establish a more formal peacebuilding platform. The platform would convene women peacebuilders, the Liberian national police, drug enforcement officials, local authorities and journalists to regularly consult with one another and develop policies and procedures to respond to cases of community conflict. This would enable them to work together holistically to resolve disputes with increased visibility and legitimacy.