Liberia: Gender Minister Calls for Women’s Political Participation, Economic Empowerment

Gender Minister Saydee-Tarr. 

— As KTK launches “Promotion of Women’s Empowerment and Rights in Liberia” (POWER) program

Liberia’s Minister of Gender, Children and Social Protection (MGCSP), Williametta E. Saydee-Tarr, has expressed the need for an increase in women's political participation and women’s economic empowerment, an initiative she said her government is focused on supporting.

Minister Saydee-Tarr made the remarks during the official launch of the “Promotion of Women’s Empowerment and Rights in Liberia” (POWER) program organized by Kvinna Till Kvinna held at a resort in Monrovia.

The POWER program, which is supported by the Swedish International Development Cooperation (SIDA), targets women and young girls in River Gee, Maryland, Grand Kru, Sinoe, Bong, Grand Bassa, Nimba and Montserrado counties and aims to contribute to a more effective, resilient and visible women’s movement in Liberia.

Mrs. Saydee-Tarr said since the adoption of the government’s own gender-responsive budgeting planning in 2019,  the Ministries of Finance and Gender have collaborated to ensure that programs and budgets that are developed by spending entities are gender-responsive.

“The budget of Liberia affects all citizens but the impact is not the same for all social groups, especially for women, girls and boys, as well as those experiencing different classes of inequalities such as age and physical disability,” Minister Saydee-Tarr said.

According to her, during President George Manneh Weah’s county tour in 2021, the women were not asking for handouts, but were asking to be shown ‘how to fish’ so that they would be able to take charge of their own sustainability.

Mrs. Saydee-Tarr said based on the different conversations from around the country, the President mandated that US$2 million be set aside for rural women and will be effected in the 2022 budget.

“We will be working with the rural women structures and we hope that all of them will understand this. We want county-by-county to come together to identify a project or program so that more value will come out of the money and not individuals wanting the money,” Minister Saydee-Tarr said.

She expressed delight that the President understood that the women themselves want to be empowered through microloans.

Commenting on Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), the Gender Minister said Liberia is making progress with the support from the traditional leaders.

“Before, we wouldn’t say FGM in their presence but today, we all can sit and discuss the problems caused by FGM with them leading the conversation. In 2019, they placed a one year moratorium on FGM practice and it was extended in 2020 because of the corona virus and was again extended for another three-year ban,” the Minister said.

She added that she is looking forward to having more conversations around ending FGM practice in Liberia before the end of the three-year ban.

Speaking on women’s political participation, Minister Saydee-Tarr said women have to be able to support each other. “iIf three women in a particular area are thinking of running, we have to come together to support one person,” she said. 

The Head of Political and Economic Governance of the Delegation of the European Union to Liberia, Jyrki Torn, said he was delighted about the partnership between Kvinna Till Kvinna and Sweden because both of them represent a success story of women’s rights.

Mr. Torn said there exists no 100 percent equal rights because the society was designed by men. He therefore called on the Kvinna Till Kvinna to ensure that all resources for the program are used for changing that design. 

He also called for empowering women in advocacy as Liberia prepares for the upcoming elections, stating “it starts by forcing political parties to adhere to 30 percent women’s participation.

Deputy Head of Mission of the Embassy of Sweden, Johan Romare, said he was elated to see civil society organizations and the gender ministry speaking with the same language.

“We are happy to invest some resources into this partnership where both the government of Liberia and civil society organizations can support women. We want to see real change,” Mr. Romare said.

The Country Representative of the United Nations Office of the High Commission for Human Rights (OHCHR), Uchenna Emelonye, said organizations supporting women’s rights show that they are directly supporting human rights.

According to him, human rights cannot be achieved when the rights of the greater population of the citizenry are still lacking.

Meanwhile, Mr. Emelonye observed that there are more female inmates at the Monrovia Central Prison who have finished their sentences but are not able to be released because they have not paid the monetary component that took them to prison. This is an issue which, he told Minister Saydee-Tarr, his office is committed to addressing.