Liberia: Gbowee Foundation Hosts Feminist Policy Lab Lessons Learned Summit


“...there’s an African saying that says, ‘Until the deer learns to write the narrative, it will always favor the hunter, and I don’t want that for these young people,’” Gbowee said.

Gbowee Peace Foundation Africa (GPFA)  has held a one-day feminist policy lab lessons learned summit with Liberian women and girls.

The summit, which took place at Musu’s Spot in Congo Town, aimed for the feminist fellows to present their research projects on the Luxury of Maternal Health, Female Inmates’ Access to Rehabilitation and Proper Healthcare, and sexual harassment in the Educational System of Liberia to the audience to inform them about what they have learned.

Speaking at the summit, Leymah  Gbowee, founder and president of GPFA and 2011 Nobel Peace Laureate, who gave a background on the Feminist Policy Lab, described the summit as one of her dreams that have come true.

“I am a dreamer,” she said. “I told people I’m always dreaming, and I love to dream, not just because I want to keep it in my head, but because I try a lot of times to make my dreams come true. But my dreams are often inspired by real-life events.”

Madam Gbowee further said that one of the issues that were fetched from her reality after thirty years is still an issue in Liberia today, including those concerning the environment and others that have one way or the other impacted the lives of women.

According to Madam Gbowee, her dream is for young women in Liberia to learn research and writing skills to be able to identify issues, show how they want to research them, change the policy, and also take action in Liberia.

“My dreams are for young women from Nimba to Grand Kru to Bong, to Cape Mount, and to Bomi to experience this, learn the research skills, learn the writing skills, get involved in this kind of work, and be able to say these are our issues, this is how we want to research them, and this is how we want to change the policy and effect actions in Liberia,” she said.

“I was looking for a way that this next generation of young Liberian women that we are training, mentoring, and inspiring would have the moment where they can write their own story, because there’s an African saying that says, ‘Until the deer learns to write the narrative, it will always favor the hunter, and I don’t want that for these young people,’” she said.

The CEO mentions that one of the reasons why women’s work cannot go as far as it should is because they do not document their activities.

Madam Gbowee also disclosed that the background of the feminist policy lab came from seeing women who had been detained in the hospital after giving birth because they were unable to pay their hospital bills.

 “Last year, I came home in July, and my good friend Viaba said to me, I have a list of women who have given birth and cannot pay their hospital bills; and I was like, Oh God, this woman, every time she has some new story for me. So I went to some people, and the hospital bills were almost over a million Liberian dollars for these women who had given birth.

The person who had promised they were going to pay these bills was wasting time, and I did not want those women to spend July 26 in the hospital, so I wrote the check and got a donation from one of my board members, and we went to that hospital.

“Some gave birth by cesarean [section] and others naturally; but they had been detained in the hospital for two weeks to three months. And so I got one of my donors who is here in Liberia. Because I harassed everybody, we raised the money.

“Everyone has a sad story, but there’s one girl extra in my memory; she was the most at-risk to run away, so the hospital put her in the basement of the hospital.

“She was 17 years old, and her boyfriend, who was a bike rider, had run away. So her young 17-year-old friend would come to the hospital every day, and these two 17-year-old girls would just be staring at the baby, like, What the hell did we just do to ourselves?

“So when we went there, I went with some people to settle the bills, but I had to see the people, and I asked the 17-year-old girl what happened, and she just started crying that she was going to just die in that hospital because there was no way that she would settle three hundred and fifty United States dollars because she had cesarean.

“We went upstairs to the administration of the hospital; the total bills were over six thousand United States dollars for all of the women that were detained, and we settled the bills.

“We got everybody to go home; we carried baby clothes; we carried transportation; and the administrator of the hospital said something profound: ‘That this not something we do — we don’t want to do this — but one of the major problems we have in most of the hospitals in Liberia is that if you do not do antenatal care in the hospitals when you are in labor, they will never take you.’

“But because they don’t usually take anyone who is in labor, every hospital, including the government hospital, referred all of the patients to him, and most times these patients cannot afford to pay their bills or are in such bad shape that the only way to save a mother and a child is to do cesarean.

“And that he had never seen anybody come to settle these before, so most of the time they stay there for the longest, and then he lets them go,” she explains.

She said the fellow identified the three gender issues — the Luxury of Maternal Health, Female Inmates Access to Rehabilitation and Proper Healthcare, and Sexual Harassment in the Educational System of Liberia — in the contest and developed their research questions.

Also speaking, Dr. Tanya Ansahta Garnett, Gender Specialist who did the project overview, said the goal of the feminist policy lab is to influence the Liberian government’s agenda on all issues related to gender equality.

According to her, they thought about the present gender issues and then trained the young women to be able to articulate and research those issues and write about them in a way that would be digested by policymakers.

Dr. Garnett further said that they wanted to build the young women’s capacity for understanding and advocacy in ten minutes and make sure that they have the research and writing skills to be able to write about the issues.

“We wanted to build their capacity in understanding concepts in ten minutes of advocacy, and then we want to make sure that they have the research and writing skills to be able to write about these issues,” she said.

She added that the first objective was for the feminist fellows to be able to understand the lessons learned from the implementation of the work and also the research being done, so that they could inform future arrangements in Liberia.

Meanwhile, she disclosed that GPFA has a key phase, and the first phase was done in December of last year, when they did training in feminizing, peace building and advocacy, community and organization gender awareness, and the ministry of feminizing.

Dr. Garnett added that they also did training in vibrant and effective communication, basic writing skills, and generating a resource.

Additionally, she stated that they had sections on research and analysis, policy and analysis, writing, feminist research methodology, and gender data analysis.

Dr. Garnett also added that phase two of the training was on data collection and writing, which took place from January to March.