By Contributing Writer
On Wednesday, July 8, 2020, Liberia was greeted with the sad news of the passing of Representative Munah Pelham-Youngblood, Montserrado County District District 9 lawmaker of the governing party. Born September 22, 1983, the late Munah became one of the youngest lawmakers ever in the country’s history when she won her first term in 2011, a feat she repeated in the heavily contested district in 2017. She was an inspiration to women and girls and her influence straddled politics, entertainment, and education. In a heavily male-dominated legislature, Madam Youngblood’s passing is indeed a great loss for women, and this article could not be written without eulogizing her.
Women’s empowerment is essentially at the heart of how societies grow and develop. From historic patriarchal societies, the world has seen tremendous transformation. Yet, more still needs to be done to achieve gender equity even in a country like Liberia that democratically elected the first female President in 2005 and then its first female Vice-President in 2017. Despite these gains, and role models, women are still very much outnumbered at the legislature, in the executive, and at the judiciary. In the private sector, the story is the same.
The improvement of education across the board is one of the most important factors in driving gender equity. In fact, I consider education as a most significant equalizer.
World Bank and UNESCO Liberian data shows almost an equal ratio of males to females in our primary school enrollment. We should be proud of this as Liberians, it is a start. However we look at the women in our lives and communities and know that it is not enough. If gender equity must be achieved to the fullest, then we must empower women and demand that all organisations in our society focus on doing so.
The United Nation’s Women’s Empowerment Principles is a good way to show our focus. Formulated by the UN Global Compact and UN Women, the “Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEPs) are a set of Principles offering guidance to organisations on how to promote gender equality and women’s empowerment in the workplace, marketplace and community.” The UN WEPs “are informed by international labour and human rights standards and grounded in the recognition that organisations have a stake in, and a responsibility for, gender equality and women’s empowerment.” This should be automatically embedded into all organisations and societal cultures but until it is, the principles offer a good guide.
The United Nation’s Women Empowerment Principles are seven and include: treating all women and men fairly at work, employee health, well-being and safety, education and training for gender equality, and measurement and reporting. These principles, when adhered to, can transform the sociocultural, economic, and geopolitical outlook of Liberia and any country. Yes, a few of them are already at work in Liberia, but a lot needs to be done to mainstream some of them.
Educational institutions, like government and civil society, should play a key role in educating and training their employees to adhere to these principles. The UN is focussed on this as an issue and yet in Liberia, there is only one organisation signed up to these principles. Research shows that Bridge, an education provider in the Government’s LEAP programme, has signed up to the UN WEPs, making Bridge Liberia the only organization in Liberia to have stepped up so far. It is great that we have an organization prepared to act as a role model for women’s rights and empowerment but now we need more. Signing up to the principles, means that Bridge can act as a role model for other organisations in the country and a champion of female empowerment issues. More importantly it sends a clear signal to female students, teachers and employees about the commitment and support that it has for the female empowerment agenda.
Both male and female students at elementary level need to grow up knowing that females should aspire for and be accepted in high level leadership, in politics, the judiciary and any other sector. They need to know that men and women should be accorded fair treatment at work with no regard to their gender. All students need to be accorded gender equity. If our students grow up in schools where girls and boys are equal and empowered and the organisation that they are educated and supported by openly values and supports that empowerment, we will build a brighter future. They will grow up taking initiatives in their communities and advocating for issues that matter to them and have no belief that those actions and initiatives would ever be limited by their gender. These principles have already been part of Bridge’s way of developing the full potentials of Liberian children, especially girls. Signing up to the UN’s WEPs shows even greater commitment from Bridge to women empowerment and places greater responsibility upon the entity to ensure zero tolerance to any act inimical to women advancement.
Hopefully, more entities will sign up to the UN WEPs as we all seek to create a more equal world, even as we mourn and memorialize a national female icon in the deceased Representative Munah Pelham Youngblood.