Press Release

Majority of Liberian Women Suffered Sexual Violence During War, Says New Study

6 November 2007
Author: UNFPA

UNITED NATIONS, NEW YORK – A new survey released by UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reveals that more than half of all women in Lofa County, northern Liberia, reported at least one incident of sexual violence during the most recent conflict (1999-2003), while nearly 90 per cent reported at least one incident of physical violence.

Pamela Delargy, chief of UNFPA’s Humanitarian Response Unit, notes that “the Lofa survey has shocking findings on the extent of sexual violence, exploitation, and abuse during the war, and is the first ‘scientific’ survey on the experiences of women during the conflict”.

Of the 907 women surveyed in 36 villages in Lofa County: 

  • More than 98 per cent lost shelter, 90.8 per cent lost their livelihoods, and 72.8 per cent lost a family member due to the war;
  • Almost half of all recent births occurred at home without the assistance of a skilled medical attendant;
  • More than 75 per cent of recent births reported by women had some type of medical complication during the pregnancy;
  • Less than 15 per cent have comprehensive knowledge of the prevention and transmission of HIV/AIDS;
  • The contraceptive prevalence rate has remained virtually unchanged since 1986 at 6.8 per cent; and
  • Access to clean water and sanitation is limited.

Many of the women who were able to access reproductive health services during the conflict did so as refugees in Guinea or Sierra Leone, underscoring the importance of providing such services to refugees.

As the epicentre of the most recent conflict, Lofa County suffered massive displacement and near-total destruction of its infrastructure. At the same time, the survey suggests there is a high probability that other counties may have characteristics in common with Lofa County and face similar challenges.

On Monday, 15 October 2007, UNFPA, CDC and other partners launched the Lofa County Reproductive Health Survey at the University of Liberia in Monrovia. The survey was carried out in collaboration with the Government of Liberia, CDC, JSI Research and Training Institute, and USAID, and was officially launched by Liberian Vice President Joseph Boakai.

In the keynote address, Vice President Boakai stressed that violence against women is a national concern and called on all Liberians, including traditional leaders, to join the government in its efforts to prevent gender-based violence. “We must uphold the rights of women in our country…instead of abusing them”, he said.

After fourteen years of civil war, Liberia is slowly making its way towards development and recovery. Much of the population has been without access to basic services, including health services, for decades, and there is very little reliable data available on which the government and other service providers can base their programmes or support. The goal of the Lofa County reproductive health survey was to provide this data, not only to inform public health actions, but also to highlight the continuing reproductive health needs of the population when humanitarian aid has ceased and development has not yet arrived.

The survey also lists key recommendations to address the poor reproductive health situation in Lofa County. These include scaling up the provision of reproductive health supplies and equipment for health facilities and hospitals, establishing a gender-based violence coordinator, promoting voluntary counselling and testing services, and increasing HIV/AIDS education campaigns.

Contact Information:

David del Vecchio
Tel.: +1 (212) 297-4975
Email: delvecchio@unfpa.org  

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