Red Shoes: Experiences of girl-combatants in Liberia


Liberia is on the difficult path of recovery after 14 years of conflict. The conflict in Liberia has created havoc, misery and trauma. But people are filled with hope, busy reconstructing a peaceful society. Successful demobilization of combatants from various fighting factions, including those of Government, is key to create, but even more, to sustain peace.

Thousands of youth take up arms during violent conflict, in many cases a key motive is the lack of job opportunities. Lessons from the past teach us that the process of disarmament and demobilization can only be successful if strong reintegration support follows immediately after the first 2 steps are completed.

Although women generally comprise between 10 and 30 percent of armed forces and groups, surprisingly little research has been done to on the lives of girl combatants in armed conflict. How does it affect their personalities? How do gender relations affect their choices? How do they cope after the conflict is ended? Are they able to use their experience to increase gender equality? Or do they go back to their earlier status of inequality? Do they have different needs then men? And if so, how well do DDR processes and programmes address these?

The ILO’s Crisis Recovery and Reconstruction Programme recognizes gender equality as a central element in equitable, effective reconstruction and development, and for “universal and lasting peace”, a major precept of ILO’s Constitution. It has a special work item on crisis and gender, aiming at creating a “new environment” with less structural imbalances between men and women, primarily in the world of work, but also in other spheres.

The present study on the experiences of female ex-combatants in Liberia was coordinated by Irma Specht, a former ILO Official and experienced consultant on matters related to DDR, through her consultancy firm Transition International. The study aims to gain insights in the motives of Liberian girls for taking up arms and their reintegration needs. It also aims to highlight the key issues for improving gender sensitive prevention and reintegration policies.

The study was facilitated and financed as a joint initiative by UNDP, UNICEF and the ILO. Alfredo Lazarte
Director a.i.
Crisis Response and Reconstruction Programme


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