Case Study on the Power of Radical Collaboration: People Before Projects

Conversation between Enhle Khumalo, CIVICUS Youth and Abigail Freeman, Alliance for Gender Justice Liberia in August 2020. 

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1. Who is Abigail?

I am a 22-year-old social justice activist and founder of the Alliance for Gender Justice and Human Rights- a movement formed on the basis of advocating for women’s rights, promoting gender equality, and amplifying the voices of women and youth in  Liberia. I am also a Youth Action Lab participant.

2. How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected the communities you work with?

We had just launched our movement prior to the pandemic. However, due to the preventing measures to spread the COVID-19 pandemic we could not go on with our planned activities which included the construction of a physical space for young women and victims of sexual violence to participate safely in the campaign for sexual violence prevention and gender justice. So in the spirit of people before projects, we decided to adapt our plans to fit in with the needs of people during the COVID-19 state of emergency in Liberia that started in March.

3. How were you able to adapt your plans to accommodate the changing environment? 

My team and I wanted to adapt our plans to address people's needs and not our assumptions of what they needed. So, my team and I decided to see how we can work with communities and  to learn how to better address this issue and direct our efforts to protect women and children.

4. What was a major take-away from the work you were able to produce using this approach?

Gender issues are extremely sensitive in Ganta, Liberia. For instance, during our time working there with fellow grassroots activists, we discovered a case where four rapists had familial ties to the judge that ordered their medical release due to COVID-19. First, I was able to reach out to people working on those issues in the town. Working together, we built a campaign to raise awareness about this and the community demonstrated an overwhelming amount of support by joining us in protests demonstrations and press conferences calling for the immediate arrest of the rapists and along the way we gained traction and got legal support from the Liberia Justice Association. This strategic alliance assisted our advocacy efforts by introducing a legal entity, which we are not qualified as. Now more people know our movement and we are recognized and referred to as a group that stands up for gender justice in a context where this is a sensitive topic. Thanks to this we are reaching more people than if we had stayed with the original project plan.

5. What would you say to organisations/donors who are looking to support youth activists like yourself in these challenging times and post-Covid?

Abigail interview 2Many women and children living in rural communities are vulnerable to violence. Creating a space that will allow women, girls and children to acquire education and skills training will be a radical approach in the fight against GBV. At the SheLeads Academy, women, children and teenage mothers will be given an opportunity to build their capacity through skills training programs, counseling and mentorship,health care and leadership development. This will serve as a means for reducing poverty and domestic violence. 

Funding and logistical assistance is also important. It will help advocacy organisations to expand their networks and support the work we are doing in our communities.

6. Any advice for other youth activists facing similar challenges?

Young people have the power to change the world and as such, it is time we build a united front by bringing young people from diverse backgrounds to elevate our advocacy.

Gender Justice, safety for women and children, women empowerment and girls education is everyone’s responsibility. 

Collaboration is key. We managed to cut across many sectors and have had many people support the work we are doing.  Value the power of collaboration., Young people can cut through the noise and advocate for a fair and just society when they organise with and through their community.