As the new Liberian President George Weah settles down to work, sex workers and other Key Populations want him to do more than his predecessor Ellen Sirleaf Johnson to address human rights violations facing them.
Weah’s is the second President of post-war Liberia, which was embroiled in a bloody civil war for 14 year.
Sex workers also hope that unlike the previous administration, Weah’s government will be more inclusive and responsive to the health needs of the community.
They hope he will keep his promise during his inauguration in early 2018, that he will ensure the vision of freedom, equity and democracy is realised.
They say they are disappointed with Sirleaf’s regime, which was overwhelmingly elected in the first democratic vote over its pledge to ensure protection of all Liberians, for doing little to advance the rights of sex workers who remain criminalised.
The Liberian Penal Law outlaws acts of prostitution, brothel ownership, pimping, and facilitation.
According to White Rose Alliance (WRA), this leaves sex workers vulnerable, marginalised, underserved and affected by violence, abuse and exploitation.
Formed in 2017 to advocate for the rights of sex workers, the organisation notes that lack of a strong movement in Liberia has contributed to continued stigmatisation and discrimination of the community.
“Tremendous strides are been made to building, strengthening and advancing sex works rights including access to services and opportunities in Liberia. However, a lot remains to be done especially in the legal aspect. Laws prohibiting sex work force the community into an environment of crime where their rights are not protected,” says the organisation’s Executive Director, Quenneh L.
WRA is working on a strategy to spearhead a decriminalisation of sex work in Liberia and hopes other civil society groups can be part of the initiative.
“Laws prohibiting sex work force the community into an environment of crime where their rights are not protected. Decriminalisation will provide sex workers with real protection from people who deprive, rape, assault and harass them.,” says the leader.
The organisation hopes to mobilise support for a law to protect under-age girls from aided sexual exploitation and abuse by parents and guardians, which is rampant and on the rise.
Quenneh says although the issue is complex due to poverty among a majority of Liberians and a culture that seems to accept child sexual exploitation, it needs to be addressed because it is not only a gross violation of the rights of the minors, but it also encourages brutality and violence against those doing consensual sex work.
On its part, the Lesbians and Gay Association of Liberia (LEGAL), an advocacy group for Key Population in Liberia, hopes human rights will be guaranteed for sex workers and the LGBTIQ community.
“During the administration of Ellen (Sirleaf), women rights issues were brought forth into national agenda by Civil Society Organisations, and the protection and rights of the LGBTIQ community was also high lighted. However, during her administration sex workers and members of the LGBTIQ community experienced limited protection, equality and inclusion,” says the organisation.
With the collaboration of the National Human Rights Advocacy Platform and the Independence National Human Rights Commission, LEGAL is anticipating that this new government will consider the protection, rights, equality and issues affecting this community as serious human rights concerns that need to be considered and institute policies that will promote the protection, equality and social freedom for all Liberians under the constitution which is provided under the law.
“These are people who voted highly for the new government to come to power with that hope of their issues being reflected into national policy, not to discriminate, abuse or violated against on grounds of the sexuality or sex life,” the LEGAL team says.