A German relief organization that was founded during the Bosnian wars in the 1990s to help victims of rape is now assisting women in remote parts of Liberia.
A 25,000 euro ($32,000) prize won by a renowned German women's rights campaigner is to be spent on helping traumatized women in Liberia. Monika Hauser, founder of the Cologne-based medica mondiale, received the award from the German state of North Rhine Westphalia for humanitarian work in crisis regions and war zones. Sybille Fezer is medica mondiale's program manager for Liberia.
DW: Ms Fezer, tell us how you feel about Monika Hauser (picture above) being given this year's "state prize" by the German federal state of North Rhine Westphalia?
Sybille Fezer: She was a German gynecologist and in1993, when news of the rape camps in the Bosnia war reached Germany and the newspapers were highlighting all the suffering of the women there, she was moved by it and wanted to do something about it. She asked many humanitarian organisations whether she could do something to help, but they were reluctant to engage in the matter so she went to Bosnia all on her own. She found some women psychologists whom she could work with and then they set up the first therapy center, taking women out of the rape camps and providing them with medical first aid, trauma counselling and legal assistance.
Tell us about your organization and the kind of work you do in Liberia.
We started work in Liberia in 2006 in cooperation with German Agro Action (Deutsche Welthungerhilfe), which is an organization that focuses on agriculture and infrastructure building, and we are setting up protection networks for women in the remote southeast of Liberia. It is a very inaccessible region and we found out through assessments and by talking to the women that there was a lot of postwar violence in the communities. So what we are doing is setting up community-based protection networks for women, meaning that we work with community volunteers, women who want to engage in the solidarity action for other women, and we train them in basic counselling skills, in active listening skills and how to do referrals to the hospitals, how to link up with the police, so that when women in remote, very small villages suffer from violence, they have somebody to talk to, they know where to go and they can be put in touch with more professional services through our community volunteers.
Tell us about the challenges your organisation faces in Liberia
We are faced with a high level of postwar violence, be it family violence, domestic violence, or "structural" violence, for example "sex for grades" in which teachers give better grades to girls who sleep with them, so they are sexually violating them and abusing them. We do have a lot of rape cases still, the victims range from four month old babies to seventy year old women and it can be a neighbor, a foreigner who comes through the community, but it also still happens that there is gang rape going on in the communities where we work. So we are encountering a very women-unfriendly environment in the southeast and that's why we are focusing on this issue there.
Coming back to the prize that Monika Hauser has won, it is one among many that she has received. How do you intend to spend the prize money?
We are very happy to have this money to spend in Liberia. We are not going to spend it on the community protection network, because that is, currently at least, being funded by the German government. Our colleagues in Liberia, they want to found their own organization, their own women's rights organization, where they can carry on with the work that we started there. This process involves getting leadership training for young, female activists, who want to – for sustainability reasons – have their own organisation. They need training in leadership, training in finance, development. We are very happy to have the money now so we can support those young Liberian women as they prepare for their future leadership roles as directors and finance managers in a newly-founded organization.
Interviewer: Isaac Mugabi