"Violence against women, violence against our mothers and sisters has reached an unacceptable level and we all must join efforts to put this to an end," says Oniel Bestman, one of many men who participated in the One Billion Rising for Justice Campaign in Monrovia.
It was a sunny Friday afternoon. The sky was blue and a special feeling of love and affection filled the air... it was Valentine's Day.
In Sinkor, [a section of Liberia's capital Monrovia] Oniel and hundreds of other men, women and youth braved the heat of the sun and marched in the streets with placards, in an event organized by UN Women Liberia and partners.
They were standing up for a cause that is more than just Valentine's Day... .the One Billion Rising for Justice Campaign. Oniel and others who joined the Billion Rising Campaign came together to call for love that does not hurt, for an end to abuse and violence against women.
Often at the center of cases of violence against women, many men now appear determined to be protectors rather than abusers of women's rights. There was almost an equal ratio of men who participated in the march.
"Men need to have a renewed commitment to say no to violence against women. We need to respect the rights and dignity of our mothers and sisters. If we respect their rights, we will discover their true value which they could not show out under fear and abuse," Oniel explained.
Many men joined the 'One Billion Rising for Justice Campaign'
Celebrating One Billing Rising has added a bigger and contemporary meaning to Valentine's Day... a moment of romantic love when many people give cards, letters, flowers or presents to their spouse or partner.
Though Valentine's Day has become a popular celebration in Liberia, many women are unable to share these cherished moments due to acts of violence, abuse and murder... ironically, sometimes in the name of 'love'.
Amongst its many post-war challenges, battling the plague of violence against women is proving to be a challenging task for Liberia. Despite increasing efforts by the government and its multi-national partners to reduce inequalities and violence against Liberian women, a convincing success is far from being achieved.
In 2013, the Liberian government reported a staggering 1,730 cases of rape for the year. Ten of those cases resulted in death. Human rights groups say it is likely these numbers are even higher, as many of the cases go unreported or are compromised. Rape is just one of the many dangers women in Liberia face, as domestic violence and other forms of harmful practices are also prevalent.
With the first global mobilization in 2013, One Billion Rising is a campaign to end violence against women and girls. This is the second observance of the event by UN Women Liberia and its partners.
The One Billing Rising campaign is a direct response to the statistics, which indicates that one in three women in the world will be raped, beaten or coerced into sex in her lifetime, amounting to one billion women.
This Valentine's Day in Monrovia, more than five hundred activists joined the one billion around the globe to RISE to end violence against women and to shake the world into a new consciousness.
Popular Liberian musicians and radio DJs including DenG, Sweets, 2-SWITT, F.A., Cypah, DJ Blue, Oneal Roberts, Daniel Ankrah and Vivian Akoto-a winner of UNMIL 'A Star is Born' musical competition added flavor to the indoor program held at the William V.S. Tubman High School in Sinkor.
They danced and showcased the anthem of the event 'Break the Chain'. Culture performers thrilled the audience with a display of different acrobatic skills and Liberia traditional dances. For many of the women who were there with their messages on posters, it was time that everyone harnessed their power and imagination to rise for justice.
The event not only raised awareness for justice but recognized and honored the work and legacy of Sheelagh Kathy Mangones-the former UN Women Liberia Country Representative whose shocking passing early February has left many saddened and a void in the fight to make the world a better place for women.
Cultural performers entertained the audience with different Liberian dances
Kathy served as UN Women Representative in Liberia (2012-2014) and Haiti (2007-2012). She led by innovation and a bold vision, inspiring her teams and delivering programs that changed the lives of tens of thousands of women and girls. Colleagues across UN Women and the wider UN systems admired Kathy's warmth, drive and professionalism and passion.
She was the driving force to bring the One Billion Rising event to Liberia though she would not live to participate in the grand celebration.
But, in her honor and because of their passion for women's issues, several institutions and corporate bodies supported the campaign, including NGO Medica Mondiale, Coca Cola Liberia, Touching Humanity in Need of Kindness (THINK), Servants Of All Prayers (SOAP), The Liberia Girls Organization, Miss Boss Lady International, Childrensmile, Youth Focus Center, Educare, and the National Muslim Council of Liberia.
The UN Mission In Liberia (UNMIL) provided logistical support and the Liberian Red Cross, the ambulance with the first aid team. Cheerful students from the W.V.S. Tubman High School helped in organizing the hall. They were especially helpful in directing other participants to the posters where they wrote what justice means to them.
For those who turned out on Valentine's Day for the One Billion Rising for Justice Campaign in Monrovia, it was a moment to celebrate, to dance and to show the world the power of global solidarity in demanding justice for all women and girls, to be able to end the violence against them.