LIBERIA: The Women's Fears at Our Borders

Sunday, March 6, 2011
Daily Observer
Western Africa
PeaceWomen Consolidated Themes: 
General Women, Peace and Security
Reconstruction and Peacebuilding

The endless battle against extortion, drug smuggling, sexual abuse and gender based violence - crimes that have exposed the activities of our security forces along the borders of Liberia are nothing short of a stinging state of affairs. The more we think the situation has been minimized, the more it hits the roof. Like a love story turned awry, our border posts appeared to have metamorphosed from a tourist haven to a nightmare, with female travelers now locked in a war of attrition.

It is unfortunate that security officers sent to our borders to defend the state are now accused of being partisan harbingers of rape, extortion and sexual molestation, according to two reports published in this newspaper this week. These actions were impeding free movement of citizens, goods and services not only along the Liberian borders but ECOWAS member states as well.

Allegations of this nature, coupled with increased smuggling of other contraband substances which undermine the movement of goods and services at entry points, are embarrassing. In the reports, the women frowned on “graft seeking behaviors by some authorities that delay processing of business registration documents in ECOWAS member countries.” They said they have often been made to offer bribes to border patrol officers to avoid reprimands for widespread violations of immigration and customs requirements. The women also emphasized the need for border guards to protect them against sexual exploitation and abuse.

We think it will be a sad thing if the government appears lukewarm to confront these allegations that have instilled much fears in those women who are involved in cross border trades. They are grave and so the perpetrators need to be treated as suspects if the claims are proven to have merits. The government needs to rise up to the challenge - arrest and prosecute those found wanting in such acts.

At the same time, we welcome the efforts of the Justice Ministry to strengthen “the capacity and awareness of security forces in order to help them provide greater sensitive service to the public” and fight the abuses against the women. We believe that treating gender issues in society with sensitivity is vital to peace building in Liberia.

The government also needs to take other measures to alleviate the fears of the women as they travel across the borders to make ends meet. Public awareness and education about ECOWAS protocols and conventions can ensure free movement of community citizens, goods and services. Security forces need to discourage smuggling of goods by focusing their operations on drugs, small arms and light weapons which had proliferated in the region. The government, which is clearly committed to regional integration and direct relationship among peoples at all levels, should also ensure that corrupt acts bordering on the movement of goods and persons in the regions must be minimized.

We hasten to point out here that the more security forces endeavor to be careful to avoid accusation of complicity in the acts cited above, the more audacious the cross border women traders will be in carrying out their businesses. The security cannot be placated for alleged complicity in abusing the women. Indulging in those acts with impunity only expands the theatre of the impending conflagration. So, let the authorities deal with the issues head on, so that the law can take its natural course. Needless to say, the government must review the activities of security forces at our border posts.