Monrovia’s Star of the Sea Health Centre is the first health facility in Liberia to offer women psychosocial and legal support alongside health services.
In any one day, the Centre’s 40 staff can expect to see 100 women and girls requesting support for antenatal, delivery and postnatal care. Many of these women and girls have experienced sexual and other forms of gender-based violence. By providing a one-stop shop for family planning, and maternal and child health services as well as health checks, vaccine administration and treatment for sexually-transmitted infections, staff find they can more easily respond to the needs of women affected by gender-based violence.
High rates of gender-based violence
Gender-based violence, especially rape and intimate partner violence, is a huge problem in Liberia. In the first seven months of 2011, 1 325 cases of gender-based violence were reported to the Ministry of Gender and Development; rape-related incidents represented 68% of all reported cases. In the past four years, an average 55% of survivors who reported rape were less than 15 years old. Meanwhile, many cases continue to go unreported. Women who are raped often do not seek services due to the stigma and shame attached to the issue, and out of fear that they will not receive a sympathetic response.
Described as “a dream come true” by a representative of the Ministry of Gender and Development in Liberia, the Star of the Sea is a faith-based health facility. It is one part of a comprehensive programme in which the Government of Liberia and the United Nations have joined forces to prevent and respond to sexual and gender-based violence. The pilot facility is located in the heart of West Point, a vast, overcrowded suburb of Monrovia.
The clinic is the result of a strong partnership between the Government of Liberia, WHO, other United Nations agencies and civil society. Funding was provided by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency.
“WHO has provided support for the mental health and psychosocial support services at the Centre, helping to build the capacity of the counselors,” says Dr Nestor Ndayimirije, the WHO Representative for Liberia. “We have also provided motorbikes to the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare to enable counselors to be able to give support in the community. Projects like this one are an important step towards developing a society where gender-based violence is no longer accepted”.