Priorities for Liberia's Reconstruction Process
February 14, 2007

Speaker: Leymah Roberta Gbowee, Executive Director of the newly established Women Peace and Security Network for Africa
Speaker: Tovian Estella Nelson, Executive Director, Liberian Women Media Action Committee
Moderator: Howard Wolpe, Director, Africa Program and Project on Leadership and Building State Capacity, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars (WWICS)

At the request of Liberia's President, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, a delegation of eighteen Liberian women leaders from government and civil society attended a Gender Symposium and week-long workshop on women's leadership in Liberia's reconstruction process in Washington, DC, in conjunction with the World Bank's Liberia Partners' Forum during the week of February 12–16, 2007. On February 14, 2007, the Project on Leadership and Building State Capacity of the Woodrow Wilson Center partnered with the Initiative for Inclusive Security to host a public briefing by members of the delegation entitled "Priorities for Liberia's Reconstruction Process." The event focused on Liberia's reconstruction efforts and how the international community can support women's leadership. Leymah Roberta Gbowee, Executive Director of the newly established Women Peace and Security Network for Africa, and Tovian Estella Nelson, Executive Director, Liberian Women Media Action Committee, presented recommendations on how to ensure that the implementation of the interim Poverty Reduction Strategy Program (iPRSP) addresses women's priorities and needs.

Leymah Roberta Gbowee outlined the current priorities of the Liberian government's reconstruction agenda including national security, economic development, governance, rule of law and health. Specifically, she examined the first two pillars of the reconstruction agenda and offered a comprehensive and multidimensional approach to promoting and supporting women's participation in government, emphasizing training and capacity building as vital to the process.

Pillar One: Enhancing National Security
Throughout Liberia's civil conflict, the security forces were employed as tools for repression and impunity, ultimately resulting in a total collapse of the security apparatus. According to Gbowee, rebuilding and enhancing the security of the nation will require a restructuring of the security forces and the national police, and, she noted, the resulting efficacy and sustainability of these vital resources will depend on the increased representation of women in the security forces. Gbowee highlighted the significant role that women have already played in the processes of disarmament and demobilization. In an attempt to engage women, the government established a twenty percent quota for women in the security forces, instituted several strategies for improving women's qualifications and reintroduced the GED for those women who do not have a formal high school education. However, Gbowee noted that women were not included in the new plan to develop a national security policy or a national defense strategy. She asserted that national consultations with women, particularly in response to the increased incidence of sexual and gender-based violence, must be central to any discussion of national security.

Pillar Two: Revitalize the Economy
Gbowee reflected on the marked decline of Liberia's economy since 1980. Liberia's economy has fallen to one-eighth of what it was during the pre-war period and real per capita income declined by seventy percent. She praised the Liberia Emergency Employment Program (LEEP), which targets women for work, as an example of best practice and a step towards greater inclusion of women in the process of economic revitalization. She tasked the government with ensuring that women are included in the design of the Liberian Employment Action Plan, adding that women must be empowered to move beyond their traditional roles, such a soap making and tie-dye, and engage in agriculture technology.

Tovian Estella Nelson continued the discussion with an analysis of the third and fourth pillars of the Liberian reconstruction agenda.

Pillar Three: Strengthening Governance and Rule of Law
Nelson praised Liberia's affirmative action policies, which currently ensure thirty percent female representation in government. She was circumspect, however, as to the scope of these measures and agreed with Gbowee that the current achievements were not enough. Nelson indicated that the problem of corruption, for example, has been addressed strictly from a monetary angle, yet the extensive practice of sex for money or access to employment gives corruption a distinctly female face. Nelson asserted that ensuring female access to employment based on merit is a requisite step towards strengthening governance and rule of law. Furthermore, she advocated for greater gender sensitivity in law and politics, and more concretely, a national policy on gender to address these issues.

Pillar Four: Rehabilitating Infrastructure
Nelson introduced key issues to be addressed in the process of rehabilitating Liberia's crumbling social infrastructure. She called attention to HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), sexual and gender-based violence, refugee return and reintegration and accessibility of resources for individuals with physical disabilities as major challenges facing the society. Nelson emphasized the strong relationship between violence against women and the transmission of STDs, which increases exponentially during wartime, and she indicated that this connection must be considered in the design of public health and security programs. Further examining the high incidence of sexual and gender-based violence, Nelson noted that children have increasingly become targets. She added that women and children lack access to safe houses and long-term psychological rehabilitation. Nelson recommended the creation of safe houses and the construction of low-cost housing for victims of violence. In addition, she advocated greater access to legal aid and increased support for victims to come forward and seek legal recourse against offenders. Nelson concluded that the benefits of pushing a gender agenda will empower the Liberian people and ensure a peaceful and sustainable reconstruction process in Liberia.

Drafted by Nicole Moler and Georgina Petrosky x 4083