News / Africa

    Liberia's Ebola Widows Struggle to Provide for Their Families

    Ebola survivor Finda Fallah sits in front of her new room in West Point, Monrovia, Liberia. As the West African country begins to recover from the crisis, many women are struggling to face a future without their husbands or fathers – the main breadwinners in their families. (Benno Muchler/VOA)
    Ebola survivor Finda Fallah sits in front of her new room in West Point, Monrovia, Liberia. As the West African country begins to recover from the crisis, many women are struggling to face a future without their husbands or fathers – the main breadwinners in their families. (Benno Muchler/VOA)
    Reuters

    Huddled together in the bedroom of their mud-brick home in rural Liberia, Marthaline Sweet's children stare at her hungrily as she picks up her 1-month-old baby.

    Sweet, an Ebola survivor and mother of five, chokes back tears as she recalls contemplating an abortion after the virus killed her husband -- leaving her alone to fend for their children.

    "We don't have a good home, we have no food and we must beg other people for help," Sweet said, gazing at the railroad that runs past her village in Liberia's central Grand Bassa County. "We are really suffering – we are slowly dying," said the 39-year-old, gently rocking her baby girl back and forth.

    Sweet is one of thousands of women in Liberia mourning the loss of their loved ones to the world's worst Ebola outbreak, which has infected 28,000 people and killed 11,300 in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone since December 2013.

    Hardest-hit nation

    Liberia, the hardest-hit nation with 4,800 deaths, was declared Ebola-free for a third time last month.

    As the West African country begins to recover from the crisis, many women like Sweet are struggling to face a future without their husbands or fathers – the main breadwinners in their families.

    About half of Liberia's 6,000 Ebola survivors are women. Besides financial hardships, many must also endure rejection from their friends, families and communities.

    Survivor and social worker Vivian Kekula dropped out of university and stopped going to work because her peers and colleagues refused to talk to her after she caught the virus.

    "People stopped drawing water from our well, and didn't let their children come near me or my house," Kekula said.

     

    Training for women

    Recognizing the need to rebuild the Ebola-stricken lives of women across Liberia, a host of nongovernmental groups have launched programs to provide vocational training and grants.

    "It is not sufficient to only supply Ebola survivors with food and aid," said Abel Thomas of the Forum for African Women Educationalists (FAWE). "We want these women to have skills that they can survive on for the rest of their lives."

    Women in Liberia tend to work in agriculture, and have traditionally been expected to collect crops and care for animals, said Jafar Eqbal from the Liberian office of BRAC, the world's largest non-governmental development organization.

    Yet more and more women have branched out in the wake of the Ebola epidemic to take on other activities - from rearing animals to selling livestock at markets, he said. "We are getting an increasing number of success stories ... many women have transformed from farmers to entrepreneurs."

    Other groups like FAWE are training women who survived or were widowed by Ebola in skills like pastry and soap-making.

    "Before I had nothing, but now I make soap and sell it at the market," said Ebola survivor Fatu Knuckles, 32, who lost nine relatives to the virus, including her father and brothers.

    Sexual violence

     

    In addition to stigma, abuse and loss of income, the threat of violence and rape also hangs over women in Liberia, a country with one of the world's highest rates of sexual violence, women's rights advocates say.

    Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf last month said the nation must enact laws to protect women and girls from violence.
     
    "Regrettably, the inhumanity of rape is still being perpetrated ... this wickedness must be brought to an end," Sirleaf said in her annual state of the nation address.

    Rape is the most frequently reported crime in Liberia, and one in four women and girls have been raped by a stranger, according to a 2013 study by the Overseas Development Institute think-tank.

    There was a rise in rape, early marriages and teenage pregnancies at the height of the Ebola outbreak, and women and girls – especially widows and orphans – are now even more vulnerable to gender-based violence than before, activists say.

    "Prevention and response services have been affected and poverty is increasing sexual violence, exploitation and abuse," said Catherine Klirodotakou from Womankind Worldwide.

    Pacing around her home's makeshift kitchen, the cawing and chirping of birds audible through the smoke-stained tarpaulin roof, Sweet is forlorn as she talks about her family's future.

    "We are not receiving the kind of help people say we are getting from the government or local and international NGOs," she said, tightly gripping the shoulders of 9-year-old Mercy. "All we can do is try our best to survive."

    You May Like

    US, Somalia Launch New Chapter in Relations

    US sends first ambassador to Somalia in 25 years; diplomatic presence and forces pulled out in 1993, after 18 US soldiers were killed when militiamen shot down military helicopter

    Brexit Vote Ripples Across South Asia

    Experts say exit is likely to have far-reaching economic, political and social implications for a region with deep historic ties to Britain

    Russian Military Tests Readiness With Snap Inspections

    Some observers see surprise drill as tit-for-tat response to NATO’s recent multinational military exercises in Baltic region

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    By the Numbers

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Testing Bamboo as Building Materiali
    X
    June 27, 2016 9:06 PM
    For thousands of years various species of bamboo - one of the world's most versatile plants - have been used for diverse purposes ranging from food and medicine to textiles and construction. But its use on a large scale is hampered because it's not manufactured to specific standards but grown in the ground. A University of Pittsburgh professor is on track to changing that. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Testing Bamboo as Building Material

    For thousands of years various species of bamboo - one of the world's most versatile plants - have been used for diverse purposes ranging from food and medicine to textiles and construction. But its use on a large scale is hampered because it's not manufactured to specific standards but grown in the ground. A University of Pittsburgh professor is on track to changing that. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Orphanage in Iraqi City Houses Kids Who Lost their Parents to Attacks by IS

    An orphanage in Iraqi Kurdistan has become home to scores of Yazidi children who lost their parents after Islamic State militants took over Sinjar in Iraq’s Nineveh Province in 2014. Iraqi Kurdish forces backed by the U.S. airstrikes have since recaptured Sinjar but the need for the care provided by the orphanage continues. VOA’s Kawa Omar filed this report narrated by Rob Raffaele.
    Video

    Video Re-Opening Old Wounds in a Bullet-Riddled Cultural Landmark

    A cultural landmark before Lebanon’s civil war transformed it into a nest of snipers, Beirut’s ‘Yellow House’ is once again set to play a crucial role in the city.  Built in a neo-Ottoman style in the 1920s, in September it is set to be re-opened as a ‘memory museum’ - its bullet-riddled walls and bunkered positions overlooking the city’s notorious ‘Green Line’ maintained for posterity. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Brexit Resounds in US Presidential Contest

    Britain’s decision to leave the European Union is resounding in America’s presidential race. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, Republican presumptive nominee Donald Trump sees Britain’s move as an affirmation of his campaign’s core messages, while Democrat Hillary Clinton sees the episode as further evidence that Trump is unfit to be president.
    Video

    Video New York Pride March A Celebration of Life, Mourning of Loss

    At this year’s march in New York marking the end of pride week, a record-breaking crowd of LGBT activists and allies marched down Manhattan's Fifth Avenue, in what will be long remembered as a powerful display of solidarity and remembrance for the 49 victims killed two weeks ago in an Orlando gay nightclub.
    Video

    Video NASA Juno Spacecraft, Nearing Jupiter, to Shed Light on Gas Giant

    After a five-year journey, the spacecraft Juno is nearing its destination, the giant planet Jupiter, where it will enter orbit and start sending data back July 4th. As Mike O'Sullivan reports from Pasadena, California, the craft will pierce the veil of Jupiter's dense cloud cover to reveal its mysteries.
    Video

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.
    Video

    Video Tunisian Fishing Town Searches for Jobs, Local Development Solutions

    As the European Union tries to come to grips with its migrant crisis, some newcomers are leaving voluntarily. But those returning to their home countries face an uncertain future.  Five years after Tunisia's revolution, the tiny North African country is struggling with unrest, soaring unemployment and plummeting growth. From the southern Tunisian fishing town of Zarzis, Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at a search for local solutions.
    Video

    Video 'American Troops' in Russia Despite Tensions

    Historic battle re-enactment is a niche hobby with a fair number of adherents in Russia where past military victories are played-up by the Kremlin as a show of national strength. But, one group of World War II re-enactors in Moscow has the rare distinction of choosing to play western ally troops. VOA's Daniel Schearf explains.
    Video

    Video Muslim American Mayor Calls for Tolerance

    Syrian-born Mohamed Khairullah describes himself as "an American mayor who happens to be Muslim." As the three-term mayor of Prospect Park, New Jersey, he believes his town of 6,000 is an example of how ethnicity and religious beliefs should not determine a community's leadership. Ramon Taylor has this report from Prospect Park.
    Video

    Video Internal Rifts Over Syria Policy Could Be Headache for Next US President

    With the Obama administration showing little outward enthusiasm for adopting a more robust Syria policy, there is a strong likelihood that the internal discontent expressed by State Department employees will roll over to the next administration. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports.
    Video

    Video Senegal to Park Colorful ‘Cars Rapides’ Permanently

    Brightly painted cars rapide are a hallmark of Dakar, offering residents a cheap way to get around the capital city since 1976. But the privately owned minibuses are scheduled to be parked for good in late 2018, as Ricci Shryock reports for VOA.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora