22 January 2013

Liberia: Saluting Women Activists On Visit to Liberia


THE ARRIVAL IN Liberia of a team of illustrious women rights campaigners, including Nobel women laureates, not only defines Liberia's place in women empowerment but also refocuses the nation to the last vestiges of discrimination and abuse still lingering in the social space. The country pays some quota to the fight for the rights of women, as demonstrated in the election of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf as first female President of Liberia and in Africa and the unprecedented rise of women movements in the country. But challenges still exist because official crime statistics released by the international stabilizing force, UNMIL and the national police continue to indicate a steady rise in sexual violence in the country. This is the contrast that greets the visit of the international women delegation visiting the country, and this is why we are hopeful that their being here, after all, presents an opportunity for Liberians, particularly women, to share the extent of the menace they face, and how these topnotch women leaders will intervene.

FURTHERMORE, THE DELEGATION'S visit confirms the expiry of Liberia's dark days, when the country was a problem child of the international community, and rocked by civil conflict characterized by mayhem and cruelty which particularly afflicted women and girls. The country was a no-go area for years, and hardly was any news about the visit of well-meaning world leaders. The country and its people were nearly mistaken for brutes and savages with no inkling of civility left in them. At the same time, however, the visiting women activists have come when deeply visible traces of discrimination against women still exists in many quarters—urban and rural communities—echoing the prevalence of a deeply entrenched cultural mindset that is bent against women. Besides the general male-favorable social order, there continue to prevail harmful cultural practices in modern Liberia—practices akin to the days of old. And we are hopeful that Liberian women will speak out clearly on these, and that the visitors will lend an ear and a hand to the lamentations.

ELLEN JOHNSON SIRLEAF WAS elected twice by the people, and she and Leymah Gbowee were crowned with the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize. An unprecedented number of Liberian women currently occupy elected and appointive positions in Government. But it's "not yet Uhuru"—freedom--for women in this country. Many women folks remain petit slaves for men in many corners of the country; they are drums beaten on my males; several are kept in secret society ceremonies denied the opportunity to education; others are dashed along the way by male spouses after years of cohabitation that comes with children; and are there varying kinds of inhumane actions visited upon women every day in Liberia as testified to by annual crime reports.

THUS, WE WELCOME the three Nobel laureates and a horde of other internationally acclaimed women to Liberia not only because their visit gladden the day for a long segregated segment of the population, women, but also because the visit refreshes hopes that women and other vulnerable people in these parts of the world are not forgotten. We join the women of Liberia to call on the delegation to, collectively and individually, use the visit not merely for dining and wining, and as a talking shop, but to pay keen attention to the testimonies of women and women organizations and be able to, upon return to their various countries, remain engaged not only with local activists but also with national stakeholders to make real the promise of women empowerment against abuse and exploitation.

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