In Liberia, the ‘Land of the Free’, the lives of most women and girls are neither free nor safe, and most own no land . One woman who has been working for decades to change this is Caroline Bowah. In 2013 she became Director of medica Liberia, a role which she passed on at the start of 2022 to Yah Parwon. In August the two women travelled to Cologne to celebrate the handover together with their colleagues at medica mondiale.
One of the greatest challenges for survivors in Liberia is the deeply rooted patriarchal oppression which still results in violence against women,” says Yah Parwon, who became Director of medica Liberia at the start of 2022. Her predecessor Caroline Bowah adds: “Even today, the government has still not managed to implement effective measures to protect women and girls.” Neither of the women are prepared to accept this situation.
For more than eleven years, Bowah has been working at medica Liberia to eliminate violence and uphold women’s rights, becoming Director in 2013. At that time, the organisation was still a country program from medica mondiale. It then only took two years under Bowah’s guidance for it to be established as medica Liberia, an independent non-governmental organisation. In this role, Bowah conducted dialogues with representatives of the United Nations in air-conditioned conference rooms in the capital Monrovia and with community elders in the shade of large trees on dusty village squares.
Reliable work for the needs of women and girls
As Ebola broke out in West Africa in 2014, Bowah and her colleagues organised public awareness campaigns, distributed hygiene and sanitary products and food parcels, and offered psychosocial counselling to support the ill and their relatives. The organisation also offered support to women and their families during the Covid-19 pandemic. “When we have conflict and crisis, women’s issues become invisible,” says Bowah.
So it is even more important to raise public awareness of them. Under Bowah’s leadership, medica Liberia became an influential voice for the rights of West Africa’s women beyond the country’s borders: strategy dialogues and advocacy measures served to reinforce political demands at a regional level. Specialist trauma advisors from medica Liberia are passing on their knowledge to women’s rights organisations in Sierra Leone. Furthermore, Bowah helped to establish the Liberian Feminist Forum, whose work included, in 2018, the public awareness campaign #weareunprotected.
“Feminist co-operation is important if we want to fight the causes of violence together.”
One member of the team since she joined medica Liberia in 2012 is Yah Parwon. She started as an intern but was soon given her own areas of responsibility. In her work she benefitted from the assistance of older feminists, including Bowah. “I understand my responsibility to the feminist movement is also to create space for those who come after us,” says Yah. “We can now call ourselves feminists with more confidence and courage thanks to the generation of feminists before us. They have prepared the way for us.” She now wants to continue this solidarity and empower younger women. This is why Parwon, a legal expert with a Master of Law in Gender, Conflict and Human Rights, founded the Rising Youth Mentorship Initiative in 2013. The Initiative supports young girls in their efforts to live a self-determined life.
“Together we can make our voices heard. Together we can make our governments carry out their duties. And together we can achieve a lot for women and girls around the world.”
“Through its radio broadcasts, anti-rape campaigns, support for survivors, and not least through the courageous commitment of Carol Bowah and Yah Parwon, medica Liberia has benefitted many people – and changed their attitudes”, said medica mondiale Board Member Sybille Fezer during the ceremony in Cologne to mark the handover.