Women Peace Hut Project
Women's Peace Hut in Malema, Bomi County
In typical pre-war rural Liberia, traditional conflict resolution council sittings were done in the “Palaver” Hut, which brought together village elders, all of whom were men, to address issues of conflict between members of the community. Because of the deep-rooted gender inequality, women had little or no access to these meetings, which dispossessed the community of the potential of over half of the population to play a significant role in ensuring more inclusive and just solutions.
With the advent of the civil war and the massive displacement of populations, Liberian women and girls bore the highest costs of the civil war which included among other things the disgusting effects of sexual and gender based violence. As a result, women throughout Liberia mobilized and constituted a formidable force which called for an end to conflict and a time for peace. Thanks to the women of Liberia, backed by local and international efforts, the outcome was the comprehensive peace agreement and eventual return to peace.
With the return to peace, Liberia has begun the process of addressing both the past and looking forward to the future. In making this transition, recommendations from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Report highlighted among others, the need for the traditional Palaver Huts and other emerging transitional justice mechanisms to be modified under a national reconciliation program to redress and resolve community conflicts left in the wake of the civil war, while also taking into consideration the protection of survivors of various forms of violence. Liberia then adopted the now internally acknowledged mechanism of the “Peace Hut”. The Peace Huts, a community driven structure and space created, whereby the very women’s organizations who had led the mass action for peace, continue to empower women, resolve conflicts, and address SGBV, together with their male champions, justice and security actors and entire communities.
Functions of the Peace Hut
The Liberian village council hall where disagreements between opposing groups or individuals is harmonized peacefully is referred to as “Palaver Hut”. But if the Palaver huts were primarily focused on addressing the wounds of the past, the Peace Huts are focused on the present and the future.
The recognition of participation and contribution to peace building, national healing and ensuring security, has earned Liberian Women custodianship of the Peace Huts which are been funded by UN Women in Liberia.
The Peace Huts serve multiple functions within their rural communities. Under the leadership of women, they are “safe” spaces in which women come together with common purpose to address their problems including issues of sexual violence against women and girls, as well as resolving conflicts within the household and the community.
The peace huts are less about a community infrastructure – the physical buildings- but more about supporting and strengthening community dynamics and women’s roles in fostering dialogue, mediation, development and seeking justice. While addressing the past remains important for Liberia’s future, it is also good to recognize the challenges faced by women today in peace making and nation building. Peace Huts have proven viable potentials to address both of these perspectives, dealing with the past and looking at the present and future, while providing women with a space for their voices to be heard.
Regionally and globally, Liberia’s Peace Huts are considered an example of an innovative and women-led community based conflict resolution mechanism.