Guest Editorial by Dr. Thelma Awori
As a woman, who will I vote for in the coming election?
How will I make the choice for a leader who will work towards a better life for me, my sisters, our daughters, and granddaughters?
We know the conditions that afflict us. Many of our lives are hard, struggling to survive and feed our families every day. Then we have to deal with violence and exploitation that too many experiences: physical violence (the beating and slapping, the rapes and marriage to our girls when they are still children); disrespect and emotional torture when our lovers abuse our trust, being left to take care of children on our own because the men who fathered them abandoned us; economic violence and exploitation when our labor is taken for granted and we are overburdened with work, These are only a few of the conditions that the leader who deserves my vote must have a track record of working to change.
How well do I know those who are seeking my vote? What is their record of treating women? How have they supported and elevated the women in their lives, their wives, the mothers of their children, their daughters and the women that they work with? Will I use my vote to put into power someone who has clearly shown disrespect for women? If I do, I am saying yes to my own oppression and to the oppression of other women. I therefore have to think twice about this precious vote of mine.
The struggle to end violence against women is a big one and spread all over the world. Everywhere women are struggling to end this violence. Women have pushed the members of the United Nations to pass several important conventions and agreements that aim at ending violence against women and girls. But many of these agreements are not implemented and it is here that we need a new type of male leadership – a positive masculinity.
In Africa, several of our presidents of the African Union (AU) have pledged their support and are actively putting in place programs for ending violence against women. They have spearheaded a campaign for positive masculinity, the practice of men who respect and promote the rights of women. On the 28th November 2023 in South Africa, this group of presidents will be holding a conference to see how far we have gone in Africa to honor our commitments with respect to ending violence against women and girls. The leader of the Liberian government should be and needs to be an active participant in these matters, raising the clarion call and mobilizing the entire nation by good example to end this scourge in our nation.
The conference hopes, among other things, to get buy-in for the AU Campaign on ending violence against women and girls (AU VAWG) to be launched and implemented at national levels. To get the strong implementation at the national level requires that the president and his team see this as an important matter, be personally committed to these values and put resources to achieve them. The challenge of the campaign will be getting on board more African Heads of State who believe in and practice positive masculinity. The president of each country, including and especially Liberia, should be the main champion of the AU VAWG campaign. The important opportunity for women now is to use their vote to put in leadership, men who practice positive masculinity when there is no woman vying for that leadership position.
On the 30-31st of October 2023, members of the African Women Leaders Network (AWLN) met in Comoros and proposed suggestions to the conference of Heads of State in South Africa. AWLN has chapters in 33 African countries, including Liberia. These chapters work as civil society organizations to promote more women in leadership and to encourage women leaders to work for the interests of women, especially ending violence against women and girls in order to create peaceful and transformative societies in which women can thrive. Civil society needs the strong backing of their governments and political leaders on these critical universal goals.
Several African countries are in the process of elections or preparing for one within the next 12 months. This is an important opportunity for women to exercise the power of their votes to hold our governments to account for their actions on positive masculinity. As women we have three powerful weapons to use that will make our lives better; these are our votes, our voices and our visibility. Are we voting for leaders who are proven promoters of women’s rights and ending violence against women or are we voting for leaders who are practitioners of violence against women? How are we using the power of our vote for a better life for ourselves? Every woman’s vote counts in the struggle for ending violence against women. We are the majority of the voters in our countries. As a woman, be wise and use the opportunity and power of your vote wisely.