Changing the Image of Women in Africa

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Liberian women have played a very critical role in changing the image of women in Africa; and they must continue as trailblazers on the continent, says Dr. Thelma Awori, Honorary Consul of Liberia to Uganda.

Reflecting on the celebration of International Women’s Day worldwide in an interview with the Daily Observer yesterday in Monrovia, Dr. Awori said, “This is an important day for Liberian women who themselves have played a very critical role in changing the image of women in Africa. Out of the ashes of the struggle against violence in Liberia, we elected the first female President in Africa, and this is a challenge to us to see how we are going to ensure that this image of Liberia as trailblazers can be maintained.”

She pointed out that the celebration of the International Women’s Day should cause every Liberian to focus on what women can do – their importance and contributions to society.

Dr. Awori described International Women’s Day as one to be celebrated by Liberian women, considering their contributions to Africa over the years and their continuing struggle against sexual and gender-based violence in Liberia.

Dr. Awori said African women have played pivotal roles through the work of the United Nations toward the progress and development of women in the world.

“It was African women who want to the Mexico Conference and said, yes, political participation is fine, equality is fine but we need development. Our villages have no water; we need food, and we want violence to end. This is a day that has been designated by the United Nations, and it comes out of the struggle of women themselves for justice and equality,” she explained.

She said African women also went to the United Nations and expressed their frustration with the violence that takes place after war, and the United Nations now has to play its role rehabilitating women survivors in post-war environments.

“Women suffered from multiple rapes, and their bodies are destroyed just like buildings are destroyed, and those bodies need medical attention. African women have had a strong voice in changing the thinking of the United Nations around when it comes to post conflict rehabilitation and reconstruction,” Dr. Awori said.

She pointed out the fact that the issue of sexual and gender-based violence is one that concerns not only Liberia’s women but women around the world, and that it is on the rise all over the world, including Ghana.

“We don’t understand why it is so,” she explained. “It is something that we have to continue to struggle against. We are not sure if it is just a backlash against women’s emancipation, we are not sure if it is because of the power struggle in the family. We are not sure if it is because of the poverty; but all of these factors contribute to it. They contribute to the increase in violence against women. We have called for a lot of legislation and a lot of legislation is in place,” she stated, but stressed the need to train young men, fathers, and brothers to see women as partners in progress, adding that Liberia’s women have been working on this for long time.

Dr. Awori said Liberian women are credited around the world for their level of commitment to ending the war in Liberia, and therefore Liberian women need to celebrate International Women’s Day with pride.

“We are aware of the challenges, but the gains are many. I just said to the women of Uganda that there are many things we can be proud of, and one is the increase of young women who are very articulate and audacious about what gender justice is and what they want. Liberia has these young women as well and we need to encourage them.
“If you look at what my mother did, what the mothers of my generation did, it was something to be proud in their days. I remember my mother taking me out to Young Women Christian Association (YWCA)’s meetings. I remembered my mother telling me that boys should not beat me in class and that I should do better than boys. She made me believe that I could do better than boys. I grew up believing that,” she recalled.

Dr. Awori also pointed out, however, that International Women’s Day is very important to women not just in Africa but to women all over the world.

She praised women of the past, her mother, Mrs. Margaret Traub, in particular, for helping to promote education throughout the world, because many of the women they impacted did not have the chance to go to school.

Dr. Awori said the present generation has done extremely well in promoting women’s liberation, expressing her satisfaction with the work done in Liberia. She stressed the need, however, to encourage Liberia’s young women to talk about women’s liberation and gender justice.
“Our generation is moving out of the way,” she said, “and we have to make sure that there is a group of women that can carry on.”

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