The Voices Of Liberia's Southeastern Women Are Not Heard In The National Legislature

Credit: Madam Tenneh A. Kamara Subah

.... Subah says. “We can’t be women and we are here, but we must always speak through the men then; it is of no essence that we are having these pieces of training on women’s representation and political participation.” 

Tenneh Subah, a teacher trainer says she entered politics because women's opinions in the southeast were not being heard and that women's representation in the region was an emergency.

“There’s nobody at that table making decisions for us, nobody contributing to the policies that guide our lives,” Subah said. “If there’s nobody there speaking for us and we are here, why don’t we get up and stand the challenge? We are not saying the men at the table are not capable or knowledgeable, but you cannot be here, and I will be talking for you.” 

Liberia's whole southeastern area had produced two female legislators. Liberia's former Chief Justice Gloria Musu Scott, currently imprisoned, was the first woman to defy that traditional norm in 2005 when she was elected as the Junior Senator of Maryland County; since then, no female had ever gained an electoral position in the national assembly. It continued until October 2023, when another woman was elected to represent District Two Grand Gedeh County, bringing the total to two.

“I thought to step out so we too can have a voice. You can’t be here, and I will be speaking for you. You are sitting here, and we are having a discussion, and I want to speak for you.” Subah says. “We can’t be women and we are here, but we must always speak through the men then; it is of no essence that we are having these pieces of training on women’s representation and political participation.” 

She told an IWMF interview in River Gee: “If we want more women in the house, we have to step outside of the party game and see it as a critical issue that we need to pay attention to, siding with our party. That’s why I was happy to hear that a woman won in Grand Gedeh, which is the first time in the history of that county, and we hope that she too will work in ways that will support more women to come up in the next election.”

Subah sees politics as an issue of fear, stigma, and overstepping one's bounds as a woman, and she believes that electorates are largely female and that young people have a distorted sense of what it is. 

“I realize that the men have been lying to the people a whole lot during the community engagement. They have presented a picture that that place is not a place that women should foot because it has some traditional bearing that it is not a female-oriented job. Out of fear, the people hold back because they don’t want you to go there and fail.

 Subah says, “They feel it is a kind of job that is dangerous for women to enter into. Women don’t have a real picture of what it is.”

She was born in 1982, the oldest of 12 Mr. and Mrs. Boakai A. Kamara siblings. She is descended from Grand Kru and RobertSport in the Grand Cape Mount Counties. During the Liberian civil war, Subah fled to Ghana with her family, where she spent a portion of her life in a refugee camp, learning and working alongside community-based groups. 

She returned from Ghana once there was compensation. Subah's career began in 2010 when she accepted a position as a teacher trainer with IBIF, an international organization, which brought her to River Gee County, and she has lived here for the past 13 years.

“We don’t have a lot of women in that field, and also I want to be a role model for somebody. Someone would say if that woman at that age can still go back to school and do this, I at this age can also try.” 

In 2011, Subah founded a community-based organization called Women Alert, which works with women and young people. Subah has used the approach to collaborate with locals in Fish Town on private gardens, village saving loans, counseling for women, and educational support for adolescent girls. 

The goal is for the women, most of whom are single mothers and widows, to be self-sufficient and capable of caring for their children. 

“Once an adult or parent has a psychological issue, there’s a transfer of it to the children who are in your care, so I thought that this was one of the important things that I should do. And also, working along with them to help them to pay attention to their children's schooling because we work with school, we saw that by the time it's 10 o’clock, the children are on their way home or sometimes you find the children by 8:30 to 9 am, they are still going to school; by the time it is 10 or 10:30 am, they are on their way home. Like that, you are losing a lot of school hours. So, we work with the parents so they too can hold the school authority accountable for helping these students to stay in school.”

Passionate about education, Subah in 2013 built an early childhood development school, which is now one of the best in the county.

 “When I came up with my early childhood development, people didn’t believe in it. As far as they were concerned, two to three years old children could not go to school; it was a waste of time and money. I said it could work, and we started it. Over the years, it has grown into what it is supposed to be. We have two branches; both of them combined, we will be talking about some four hundred students.”

Subah is not discouraged that she didn’t win the election; she intends to increase her community involvement with the hope of getting it right by 2029. 

“The men, they don’t give up. Some of them came the third and fourth times before they made it. Around us here, just by you coming three times, the people feel sorry for you and say she has come too much; let's give it to her at least. That’s one of the things; the people say that by the time women step into an election once and you don’t win, they sit down, and by the time you sit down, your political life is dead. But if you go the next time and continue coming, there’s a chance that you may win.”

She is urging women-led organizations, influential women in politics, international partners, and stakeholders who want to see increased and better women representation in national legislatures to support women early and help them remain engaged with their respective communities.

 “I thanked those who, in the process of the elections, came in with support. I am glad that they came in to help us, but I want them to make their programs more timely. They should work in the timeframe. I tell you when you are in elections; just two days away from your constituents can cause much damage because our people live in their eyes. They want to see you all the time."

"In that way, they feel that they have a connection with you.” She went on to say, "I also want the international partner to work with us to engage with the school; the school has a lot of young people. The student community is not easy; they have the numbers because when it comes to political leadership, that's the starting point for girls that are in school."

Editor’s note: This reporting is supported by the International Women’s Media Foundation and NDI’s VAW-PM Program.