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Women Use Careers to 'Fight Back' After Conflict, Attacks


Women in conflict zones are often singled out for violent attack. But the women of West Africa are finding that one way to fight back is through economic empowerment.

Tina Jatei Kpan remembers the exact date during Liberia's 14-year civil war when she thought she was going to die, because it was supposed to be an unlucky day.

"Friday the 13th is a bad day, yeah. That is the day, yes, that I was taken to be executed, yes," she recalled. "I will never forget that day, because I thought I was already killed."

Kpan was in a taxi on that day in 1990, when soldiers stopped the car, beat her and threatened to execute her. Ultimately she was released when some of the soldiers realized Kpan's father had once been their teacher. Months later she fled to Ghana.

Today, she has returned to Liberia where she owns Kasawa Fashion Liberia, which creates Batik Art, handbags, hats and more. Kpan receives assistance from Femmes Africa Solidarité, a non-governmental organization that supports business efforts of women from post-conflict countries.

The International Committee of the Red Cross' Women in War Advisor, Nadine Puechguirbal, said during times of conflict, a group of men will often target another group of men, through their community of women.

"Women are victims of armed conflict, I would say because of the role and the responsibilities they play within the community," said Puechguirbal. "And they are very much also the bearer of the culture of the community. That is why very often they are targeted by different armed groups."

She adds that although economic empowerment can help women after the conflict, it is only a small part of the solution.

"However, I would caution that its not enough, because we have to tackle the roots of the problem, and the roots of the problem is really to prevent those armed groups from assaulting the women, from terrorizing the populations," said Puechguirbal.

The women who often are attacked and raped need to see their aggressors prosecuted, said Puechguirbal, who also works extensively in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Tina Jatei Kpan added that women in Liberia were singled out for attack during the 14 years of civil war.

"We were targeted, you know we were raped, " she said, "and they realized that when women were in the homes, they could easily bust in the door, you now, shoot us there, take away what we had or rape us. Yes, we were vulnerable at the time."

Kpan said these women are the ones who are coming back to the country and talking about the past, as well as building up Liberia for the future.

"There is a lot of people who were raped, but who have come back now, and who are proud to talk about it, it is like you know, they have risen above that, they have put their lives back together," she said. "They are the women who are building Liberia, creating more jobs, into farming, coming over production, arts and crafts, the women who are doing that."

According to the recently released 2010 United Nations Population Fund "State of World Population Report," through the experience of conflict, "Many women became the economic lifelines for their families." It said that through finding ways to earn money for food and other necessities, they often returned home with a new sense of confidence.

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