4 December 2012

Liberia: President Sirleaf Challenges Marketers to Continue to Be Engine of Growth

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has renewed government’s support to Liberian market women and challenged them to continue being an engine of growth.

“I am passionate about the conditions of the women who are the principal contributors to Liberia’s economy, who run our informal economy and who feed this nation,” President Sirleaf said, making reference to the women who risked their lives during wartime, in the search for food; the women who today cross borders to bring in goods; women who travel long distances, from their small farms, to sell what they produce in the markets in order to provide for their families. “I’m talking about the resilient market women of Liberia – and other countries – who are the bedrock of our society,” the Liberian leader stressed.

According to an Executive Mansion release, President Sirleaf made the statement on Tuesday, December 4, at the end of a one-day Study Tour Conference involving market women from three countries, held at the Paynesville City Hall. The Sirleaf Market Women’s Fund (SMWF), in collaboration with the Joyce Banda Foundation in Malawi and the African Women’s Development Fund (AWDF) in Ghana, undertook a 17-day, three-country study tour titled “Advancing Economic Empowerment of Women: Cross-learning and Exchange Programme of Market Women from Liberia, Ghana and Malawi.” The program was sponsored by the United Nations Development Programme.

A five-member team from the Liberian Marketing Association (LMA) traveled to Malawi for four days and met with the Joyce Banda Foundation. The group then traveled to Ghana, along with their Malawian counterparts, for another four days and met with the AWDF. All the participants then came to Liberia for a four-day wrap-up that ended with Tuesday’s Conference which included major stakeholders.

Through their travels to the three countries, the market women shared experiences, success stories, challenges and opportunities, discussed options and solutions to improve their conditions, markets and mechanisms involving the informal sector economy, small-scale trading opportunities, and economic empowerment of women.

In her “Words of Encouragement,” President Sirleaf expressed delight and pride at seeing the market women on the Study Tour representing their profession from their respective countries. She hoped that the UNDP Study Tour Conference is a forerunner of future events aimed at the economic empowerment of women through cross-learning and exchange programs involving women from across Africa.

President Sirleaf reiterated that market women and street vendors, who comprise 85 percent of Liberia traders, represent the largest group operating the informal sector economy, and that their significant contributions deserve appreciation, attention and support. “The potential of this group to combat poverty and create wealth at the micro level must be recognized and promoted,” the Liberian leader emphasized.

President Sirleaf thanked her Malawian and Ghanaian counterparts for allowing their citizens to come to Liberia and share ideas with their colleagues during the tour. She challenged market women of the three countries to continue exchanging ideas on how to improve on their knowledge in business. Reminding women everywhere of their strength, drive and courage, the President encouraged market women to empower themselves. “Do not wait for others to do it for you. Effect major changes that will improve your lives and working conditions,” she urged.

Speaking earlier, the heads of the Malawian and Ghanaian delegations expressed delight at President Sirleaf’s support to market women in Liberia and promised to make similar proposals to their respective governments to consider copying the good example of Liberia. Leading the Malawi delegation was Mrs. Edith Akridge, Executive Director of the Joyce Banda Foundation and daughter of President Banda.

Serving as guest speaker, Mr. Jeremiah Sokan, Deputy Minister-designate for Regional and Sectoral Planning in the Ministry of Planning & Economic Affairs, described market women as the engine of the African economy and a conduit of peace and reconciliation in their day-to-day activities. He called upon the women to form a common front in maintaining these attributes which would put their respective countries in a position to improve and support the informal sector.

The Sirleaf Market Women’s Fund, one of the sponsors of the Study Tour, was established in late 2007 to empower market women in post-conflict Liberia by constructing and rehabilitating markets and providing women marketers with market infrastructure and a number of skills training, financial tools and other services. The Fund was established by an international group of women, including expatriate Liberians and others. Since its establishment, the SMWF has constructed or renovated 13 markets. By the end of 2014, six more markets will be constructed or rehabilitated. With its goal to build a total of 50 markets across the 15 counties, the Fund has developed two prototypes representing models of rural and urban market structures.

The 453-acre Omega Complex Project, in Paynesville, represents a huge project – the first of its kind in Liberia - and promises economic development and empowerment to local marketers and residents. This multi-purpose project will not only consist of an urban market prototype, but will also include dwelling units, shops, other businesses, and more.

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