Monrovia, Liberia. April 2013. Girl licks a knife after cutting birthday cake to celebrate friend's birthday.
West Point, Monrovia, Liberia. April 2013. Children wash in public bathroom in West Point. Infrastructure like bathrooms and toilets is almost non existent. Many of 75.000 residents of West Point can not afford the fee due to high poverty levels and use beach or other public areas for bathing or defecation. Public toilet facilities without sex segregation are one of the most common areas of attacks involving sexual violence.
Monrovia, Liberia. July 2013. Detail of the bedding at the safe house for survivors of sexual and gender-based violence run by local NGO - THINK Liberia.
West Point, Monrovia, Liberia. July 2013. Evon seats in a room where she lives with her sister and grandmother and other members of extended family. Evon's grandmother supports the whole family by running a small restaurant in West Point.
Waterside, Monrovia, Liberia. April 2013. Evon with her sister and cousin walk to school on a road flooded by rain water. The school is located in an area just outside West Point. Evon is able to attend school thanks to a scholarship provided by More Than Me Foundation. Many residents of West Point can't afford school fees and percentage of children in education is very low especially among girls.
Monrovia, Liberia. April 2013. Class in the school attended by most of the girls with the scholarship provided by More Than Me. Organisation was at that time in the process of renovating a building for their own academy which will provide primary education for about 240 girls.
Monrovia, Liberia. April 2013. Cyrus Cooper - one of the staff at More Than Me Foundation is teaching a computer class. All computers are powered by the generator. Computer classes and vocational training is part of the after school activities organised by More Than Me aiming at improving girls skills, but also providing a safe environment for spending time.
Monrovia, Liberia. April2013. Girl playing with red balloon in one of the classrooms after classes ended for the day
Monrovia, Liberia. July 2013. Doll left on the floor in a safe house for underage survivors of abuse and gender-based violence run by THINK Liberia. Sexual violence is a big problem and according to a recent Doctors Without Borders report, 92 percent of Liberia's rape victims seeking treatment are under the age of 18, an estimated 40 percent of which are under 12 years old. Ten percent are younger than five. It is not uncommon for students to be subject to sexual harassment.
Monrovia, Liberia. July 2013. Girl plays with a shower cup used during the rainy season to protect hair.
West Point, Monrovia, Liberia. April 2013 Evon helps her grandmother with household chores and small restaurant they run as means to support the extended family. Fetching water is traditionally female responsibility and even small girls often carry heavy buckets or jerry cans for long distances.
Monrovia, Liberia. April 2013. A girl carries bags with fresh water to be distributed at school during lunch time. The school, like many others, has no running water or toilets.
Monrovia, Liberia. April 2013. Girls drink water from plastic bags - it is one of the cheapest ways fo buying safe drinking water.
Monrovia, Liberia. April 2013 Girls share lunch while chatting with a friend. Additional meal provided by More Than Me Foundation is often important contribution towards girls diet and helps to convince families to allow girls to go to school.
Monrovia, Liberia. April 2013. Girls enjoy spontaneous dance after school taking advantage of loud music played by neighbours.
Monrovia, Liberia. July 2013 Hawa during boxing training. She is the only female attending boxing lessons at the local club.
Monrovia, Liberia. July 2013. A young girl jumps over the fence dividing kitchen area from rest of the compound of the safe house for survivors of sexual and gender-based violence.
Monrovia, Liberia. July 2013. Gecko on the window. Insect, pests, and small reptiles often infest human dwellings during the rainy season.
West Point, Monrovia, Liberia. August 2013. Mamie moved to Monrovia to live with relatives. She doesn't go to school and helps extended family with their jobs and household chores.
West Point, Monrovia, Liberia. 13 August 2015. Not many men cook in Liberia, but Joseph helps his wife as much as he can, especially since they now look also after 2 more children who lost parents to Ebola. they have 5 children including their own.
West Point, Monrovia, Liberia. August 2013. Siah works in the market. She lives with extended family after moving to capital city Monrovia.
Liberia, Monrovia, West Point. April 2013. Evon walking in the alleyways of West Point.
West Point, Monrovia, Liberia. August 2013. Girl enjoys playing outside despite rainy weather.
Monrovia, Liberia. 09 August 2015. Children play late at night outside a restaurant popular with wealthy Liberians and expats. As the restaurant is using a generator to light up the parking spaces the surrounding area became a popular place among local population to hang out at night as they can't afford access to electricity.
West Point, Monrovia, Liberia. August 2013. Another rainy night in the West Point township.
West Point, Monrovia, Liberia. August 2013. Girl relaxes in the bar where she works.
West Point, Monrovia, Liberia. August 2013. A young girl works in a bar run by her guardians.
West Point, Monrovia, Liberia. April 2013. Girls playing with soap bubbles in the tight alleyways between houses in West Point.
“God made woman then he jerked”, reads a mural on the streets of Monrovia, Liberia, a country mostly remembered for its fourteen-year civil war and, more recently, Ebola epidemic.
As Liberia celebrated its 10th anniversary of peace in summer 2013, and with a woman occupying its highest political office, I was keen to explore the lived experience of a post-war generation of girls growing up among a war-scarred population. While I specifically focused on girls living in West Point, one of Monrovia’s townships, it is important to bear in mind that the problems they face are typical for the majority of urban dwellers. Only 8% of Monrovians have access to piped water and 1% to the electricity grid. Using generators makes the cost of electricity one of the most expensive in the world according to the UN.
Despite the presence of some high-profile female figures in Liberian politics, the everyday realities and opportunities are very different for the majority of women. Relatively few girls are able to attend school as they find it difficult to reconcile their obligations towards their families with the demands of schooling. Many struggles to afford the obligatory school uniforms and registration fees despite education being (at least in theory) free. Sexual and gender-based violence remain major concerns, including in Liberia’s educational system, and it is not uncommon for students to be subject to sexual harassment when it comes to exchanging favours for grades. In 2013, all 25,000 candidates failed the entrance exam to the University of Liberia, prompting President Sirleaf to brand national education system as “a mess”.
Since my initial trip, I was fortunate to return few more times to Liberia and I hope this project might help shed light on the disproportionate burden of the aftermath of its civil war on women – one that, paradoxically, was fuelled by the very inequalities it now helps perpetuate. I would tell of their resilience and determination, as evident in the lives of these young girls as they fight to improve their prospects for the future often with help of organisations like More Than Me (https://morethanme.org/) which provides scholarships for young girls from West Point and Think Liberia (http://thinkliberia.com/) which works with young victims of sexual and gender-based violence. To understand the lived experience, and hopes, of a new generation of women, is more critical today than ever before.