Veteran Liberian teacher Mary Brownell has blamed the vulnerability of girls in Liberian society on failure of parents to provide guidance for their girl children.
Speaking in a telephone interview Monday on the problems affecting women and girls in society, Mother Brownell said, “I cannot remember [a time] during my days when girls of my age group were seen at late hours in the street. You would be asked by an elderly person why you should be out, and that person will surely trace your parents or even discipline you for staying out late. But today parents do not care about where their children go and do not give them advice; and as a result, you see girls in the streets and sleeping there.”
She said the failure of parents to provide guidance for their girl children has resulted in the high rate of teenage pregnancy in Liberia.
Mother Brownell, who turns 87 on March 12, said she believes that the Ministry of Gender is doing well to identify the problems affecting women and girls in the country; but because parents are not exerting effort in teaching and advising their girl children, these girls continue to face sexual exploitation and other forms of gender-based violence.
She also pointed out that women’s organizations are all over Monrovia and in other parts of the country seeking donor funding to help girls, but lamented that their impact is not being felt.
According to her, if women’s organizations and parents were playing their roles as role models for girls, prostitution and teenage pregnancy would have reduced by now.
Weighing in on the issue of the age of consent, Mother Brownell proposed that 18 years of age is preferable as the statutory age of maturity. A girl of that age, she said, will have the attributes of decision making and can decide what is good for her.
In Liberia, however, many boys and girls aged 18 and beyond still live with their parents and rely fully on their support for schooling and other basic necessities.
In response to this concern, she said parents will also have to play their roles in moùlding the child to be able to demonstrate maturity by that age.
“The way parents teach their children in the home will help their children to demonstrate maturity at the age of 18. The girl or boy child in the home learns from the parents, and anything the parent does is what the child will learn. For the girl child to be matured and independent at the age of 18, parents should set the pace for the child to follow. Get the child to school at the required age and by the time she reaches 18 she is out of high school and thinking about going to college,” the veteran educator and mother emphasized.
Another concern Liberian women have as they celebrate International Women’s Day is the30 percent political representation exclusively allotted for women by the constitution.
The “Gender Equity Bill,” sponsored by Montserrado County District #1 Representative, Josephine Francis, has lingered in the House of Representatives for years without passage.
Mother Brownell, while expressing support for the bill, stressed that she is disappointed in women on ground. Their lack of support for one another, she observed, is responsible for their marginalization by men.
She also asserted that women, if they want to break the barrier, should get acquainted with their constituents and demonstrate their competencies as leaders. They should not simply rely on T-shirts and a few bags of rice in election season.
She added that the dominance of men in Liberian politics is highly reflective of the fact that 50% women’s participation is needed to equitably bridge the gap.