WOMEN WAR SURVIVORS OF SEXUAL VIOLENCE IN LIBERIA: INEQUALITIES IN HEALTH, RESILIENCE AND JUSTICE

Abstract

Author(s): Helen LIEBLING-KALIFANI and Bruce BAKER

This article argues that the human consequences of conflict sexual violence have often been misunderstood. Typically research has conceptualised these effects in terms of an individual manifestation of psychological trauma and physical injuries. The corresponding post-conflict responses have therefore been confined to a medical one. This paper, based on research with women war survivors in Liberia, argues for an alternative understanding and response. First, it views conflict sexual violence and torture as gendered, that is, although both men and women endure these experiences, their responses are different. Second, it believes that beyond the individual's trauma the impact of conflict sexual violence and torture affects whole communities and identity. Third, it recognises a strong desire for justice among survivors whose fulfilment is vital to their recovery. Fourth, it recognises high levels of resilience among women survivors. In the light of these perspectives, the article argues that for post-conflict responses to be effective they must go beyond a purely individualistic and medical conceptualisation of needs. Rather they have to be gendered, culturally sensitive, address justice as well as health needs and build upon the resilience of women war survivors and their communities.

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